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For the locals of Eden, a small coastal town equidistant between Sydney and Melbourne, Sunday September 15 been clearly marked on their calendars for some time.

It’s the day they wheel out their jazz band, open their welcome banners and markets stalls, and don their biggest smiles for the much anticipated arrival of the first cruise ship since the completion of the Port of Eden upgrade. And when P&O’s Pacific Explorer docks, the town will explode in celebration.

The new port was 14 years in the making, cost $44 million in investment from the community and is expected to rake in close to $50 million in revenue for the local economy, boosting jobs. The key feature is that the port will allow larger cruise ships to dock right at the wharf, easing passenger disembarkation.

On Sunday morning, pupils from the Eden Public School as well as volunteers from Cruise Eden will be waving red flags to welcome passengers cruise aboard the Explorer.

Cruise passengers will walk straight off the ship and into the Taste of Eden festival, a foodie’s delight filled with delicious dairy products and fresh seafood. Others will be ushered into the famous local Seahorse Inn to try some of the other produce on offer from the stunning Sapphire Coast.

Eden is just another example of how the cruise industry creates jobs, spreads wealth and gives an increasing number of Australian destinations the chance to share in a growing tourism sector.

Port Authority of NSW cruise development manager Natalie Godward is keen to see the wharf entice more passengers ashore to enjoy all the Sapphire Coast has to offer: nature, food and wine experiences top the list for local tours, encouraged by the stunning features of the region’s land and sea.

Drawcards include kayaking, whale-watching tours, local seafood, the Ben Boyd National Park and the Killer Whale Museum.

While it has been no stranger to activity, NSW’s southernmost deep-water harbour is about to entice passenger vessels up to 325 metres in length into Snug Cove, something Ms Godward hopes is going to increase ship numbers and boost passenger uptake of local tours.

In addition to the wharf upgrade, the Port Authority is committed to opening a new facility to welcome and disseminate cruise passengers transiting in Snug Cove. It is anticipated that this extra facility will be operational in time for the 2020-21 cruise season, further boosting revenue and tourism for the Eden township.

No wonder Eden residents are smiling.

Natalie Godward – Cruise Development Manager, Port Authority of NSW

“We are already seeing a huge jump in cruise ships booking into our new port, including Royal Caribbean who weren’t ever going to come in the past because it was all just too hard.

“The benefits of putting Eden on the map for our domestic cruise ships is also fantastic, because it means we are spreading the word to tourists who may want to return, by land next time. At this stage it’s hard to put a number on it, but we are looking at about 70 per cent of domestic passengers saying they would ideally like to return to Eden.

“Nearly every day, our shopkeepers and locals are chatting to tourists who say they were here last year on a cruise ship and they decided to come back and check it out again.

“We are just so proud of everything we have to offer our visitors. The locals here want to share it with visitors. We are really excited about sharing what we feel is one of Australia’s best-kept secrets. We are 75 per cent national parkland and we have 400 kilometres of pristine beaches, so it’s the perfect place to stop and enjoy local wine and oysters, sitting on a beach in Eden, enjoying the sunshine.

“It’s also the perfect cruise for Aussies to take when they can only escape for a long weekend. In three days, you can leave on a Friday afternoon, cruise to Eden and back for the weekend, and return to work on the Monday, feeling like you’ve been on an amazing escape to somewhere completely new.”

Kristy McBain – Bega Valley Shire Mayor

“The port of Eden is spectacular. And it’s beautiful now to be able to share that with cruise passengers from around the world. The hope is that we will be able to cement Eden as a popular tourist destination. We want to promote business growth with a particular focus on local tours and hospitality experiences.

“The point of difference for this area is that it’s one of the last untouched slices of paradise in Australia. We have the second deepest port in the Southern Hemisphere and we are home to two whale migrations per year, plus we have loads of cultural heritage to promote. From our award-winning local oysters and seafood to our warm local hospitality experience, combined with tours, we have so much to offer.

“We’re really proud now of our micro-breweries, our artisan breads, and Bega cheese is very popular in the area too. We’ve been very lucky with the volunteers from Cruise Eden. From students at the local high school to retirees, so many people have been coming forward to donate their time and energy and it has made a real difference.

“We’re also very proud of how clean and beautiful our region is. The Port Authority, Cruise Eden and local council are all working together to ensure it’s all ready to go. Council is strongly encouraging the growth of local businesses and also to keep on growing from the experiences that increased cruise ships will bring. There are some advantages in the fact our cruise ship visitation is as a day port, it gives us that focus, one step at a time.”

Bob Sykes – Cruise Eden Volunteer Coordinator

“Being a volunteer for Cruise Eden is both exciting and exhausting. We’ve been working hard since the bigger cruise ships started arriving five or six years ago now, and we’ve seen the ships grow from around six to eight per season to around 22 per season.

“That means we have roughly six to eight volunteer staff on any given day when a cruise ship is in town. We generally arrive at the wharf at 6am and set up the marquee down near the visitor’s centre and from there we will sell souvenirs and promote the market stalls selling local produces and wares. We stay till the ships leave at around 4pm.

“Occasionally we suffer from volunteer fatigue but, overall, it’s such a positive vibe and we get so much reward from seeing the response from our visitors and their feedback. We only ever get positive feedback from them.

“It’s great to know we are still growing and the new wharf is going to mean we will need to introduce some paid positions – but eventually the new welcome centre that’s next on the cards for development is going to eliminate the need to set up a marquee and will make it a lot easier for the volunteers.

“We have a real cross-section of volunteers here for the ships, and it’s especially great for our senior volunteers who have such a strong knowledge of the region, plus it gives them a great opportunity to engage with tourists and to play an important role in our community. They devote a lot of their time to it and they love what they do.

“In fact, I’ve heard through the grapevine that people aren’t just choosing to return to the area for overnight visits and holidays but people who have come to Eden on a cruise have actually moved to live here because they loved it so much!”

Brett Weingarth – Owner of Captain Sponge’s Magical Oyster Tours

“When I first had the thought of running an oyster farm tour just four years ago, I didn’t act on it until I knew that we would have cruise ships coming in… it really was what you’d call a business decision based with a cruise catalyst. But knowing we would have a cruise audience – that’s what tweaked my interest – I was looking at a base line of steady passengers to work off. And now knowing we will be having 20-40 ships coming into Eden, is what has made it all far more interesting for me as a business owner.

“Thankfully, it hasn’t been too hard to get exclusive contracts with the ships – no one else is doing tours like mine. But it’s definitely the cruise side of the business that’s made it work out. When I first set out, I bought a boat and then I saw strong growth in a short period of time. In the first year, business doubled and then doubled again. Now with the new wharf, I’m looking at people walking off a lot easier and quicker ­– this access is going to make a huge difference to my tour numbers.

“For me, it’s really fun to see the impact on the international visitors, they see it as the highlight of their cruise – they love it! Not many people run oyster tours like mine anywhere else in the world. And Eden is such a great spot to be, it’s so picturesque.”