APT is talking to three state governments to get their luxury adventure small ship Caledonian Sky into the Kimberley for the April season.
APT’s managing director Chris Hall has told Cruise Passenger he is “quietly positive” about talks with the state governments regarding restarting small-ship cruising in Australia.
Mr Hall, one of Australia’s most respected tourism executives, told Cruise Passenger, Western Australia, Northern Territory and Queensland are talking to the company about the restart. Discussions, he said, are going well.
Caledonian Sky now has just 99 berths for passengers, which means she slips under the Federal Biosecurity Act, which has banned international vessels of 100 passengers or more since last March.
The ship has three isolation cabins and three cabins reserved for additional crew.
So state governments now hold the future of the 2021 season in their hands.
Mr Hall said APT was working with fellow adventure line Ponant on a small ship revival, along with Respond Global founder Dr Ian Norton, a former World Health Authority physician, and Cruise Lines International Association Australasia.
The Kimberley region is doing it tough after missing out on the cruise season last year.
It isn’t just those whose livelihoods depend on cruising, but also land-based operators who are suffering. A return of the Caledonian Sky would mean the many passengers who bought cruise and land-based packages would help local and indigenous communities get back on their feet.
And APT passengers use travel agents, another group hard-hit by the pandemic’s pause on travel.
Governments are keen to make it work, Mr Hall said. One area of discussion has been the quarantining of the crew when the vessel arrives.
Some states want this to be ashore. The problem is: who maintains the ship while this is happening?
Ponant Asia Pacific chair Sarina Bratton told an industry forum this week Ponant’s biggest problem in the short term was convincing the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) that expedition cruising is safe in Australia.
“You know, in Europe, we’ve operated 60 expeditions over the last summer in Europe, whilst the pandemic was quite aggressive,” she said. “Yet, it’s still very difficult for us to get the AHPPC to sign off on a lot of those protocols.”
Mr Hall says he accepts that the fate of the big ship season beginning in September could well depend on how small ships fare in the Kimberley.
The response from passengers has been very strong, with only a few cabins still available for the season, he said.
APT continues to support the Australian Open, featuring the Caledonian Sky season in many of its advertisements.
While demand is strong, there is still availability. For more, see apttouring.com.au.
Meanwhile, the momentum for a limited start continues to grow. Here’s Cruise Passenger’s appearance on Channel Seven’s Sunrise program on Tuesday explaining the new medical protocols that are easing concerns: