The upcoming Australian cruise season is seemingly hanging by a thread following the federal government’s failure to produce a plan for the return of cruising.
Royal Caribbean, which was to have had four ships, Serenade, Radiance, Ovation and Quantum of the Seas homeported in Australia when the wave season was to have started in September, has told Cruise Passenger the deployment is under a “full review”.
A spokesperson said: “In response to the Australian Government’s extension of the international cruise ban, we are currently completing a full review of our upcoming summer program and will announce any necessary changes in the coming weeks. As the Cruise Lines International Association said yesterday, we urge the government to commence discussions with the industry to take real steps towards establishing a plan for future cruise operations.”
Carnival, which homeports the biggest fleet with some nine vessels under the P&O, Princess and Carnival Cruises brands, declined to affirm it would have all ships and brands sailing.
Said a spokesperson: “We continue to press for a plan to enable the resumption of domestic cruising. In the absence of a plan, future planning is extremely difficult. On this basis, we are not in a position to respond specifically other than to say we look forward to a plan to give cruise lines and their guests greater certainty.”
The statements came ofter Cunard and Seabourn both cancelled their anticipated visits to Australia this year.
The cruise ban was extended to September 17 last week in a move that infuriated cruise line chiefs who had anticipated the government would publish a way forward before extending the ban. Such a move would have at least given the industry hope and certainty, while ensuring passengers knew what to expect.
Instead, the government – which appears in disarray after Tourism Minister Dan Tehan spoke of cruises return last month – has ensured that a lack of certainty continues to cast a huge shadow over $6 billion of jobs and income for producers and tourism operators.
Mr Tehan had promised a review of the ban saying: “My hope is if we can continue managing the pandemic like we are, we will be able to see more cruise ships in our waters.”
The sticking point is a federal government “framework,” which without none of the states can hold meaningful talks.
The last two weeks appear to have ignited renewed protest from cruise ship operators, who now seem determined to take the fight for a cruise resumption up to the government.
A delegation of industry representatives from producers to entertainers led by Carnival President Sture Myrmell met MPs in Canberra this week to put their case.
For the past 16 months, the industry’s representative body had been working behind the scenes in the hope of persuading the powerful AHPPC to produce a “framework” to allow internationally registered ships to sail in Australia with foreign crews.
But the announcement last week of the cruise ban took many top industry executives by surprise – and is believed to have led them to talk of taking the gloves off and using their powerful 1.3 million cruise supporters to pressure the government for a break to the impasse.
Insiders maintain that government ministers are happy for cruise to resume, but health administrators – bruised by the blame they received at the hands of the commission of inquiry into the Ruby Princess – block every attempt to try and reach agreement on how to cruise safely.
Sarina Bratton chairman Asia Pacific of Ponant, said on LinkedIn this week: “Come out from under the doona Australia and let us get back to business!
“Six of our 12 small expedition ships operating in Europe this month and no progress on a Framework for Staged Resumption in Australia – despite months and months of meetings with Governments. It is unacceptable to stop an entire industry from working when the health protocols are proven, recorded and the risks manageable.
“Thousands of our Australian guests booked to do small scale domestic expeditions, exploring their own country with 150 other like minded Aussie explorers, are being held to ransom by lack of Government action.
“Let us get back to work, generating economic benefit around remote and regional Australia and providing light at the end of a very long tunnel for our travel industry partners.”
Ms Bratton had been negotiating to allow sell-out cruises in The Kimberley which she estimates would have brought $6 million to tour operators, including many Indigenous-owned businesses.
President of Carnival Australia Sture Myrmell said the Federal Government’s recent extension of its biosecurity determination to September 17 had been anticipated – but the absence of an agreed pathway back for cruising, beginning with domestic itineraries was “extremely disappointing”.
“We need certainty as cruise operators to prepare for restart but a framework to achieve this is just as vital for our many suppliers who are reeling from the suspension of cruising,” Mr Myrmell said. “In its last year of full operation in Australia, cruising generated $5 billion in economic activity with much of it in regional areas. It is not something that can be lightly dismissed. Real businesses, real people and real jobs are being affected.”
It generally takes around 90 days to prepare a large cruise ship to sail. September 17 is 91 days away, which means the clock isn’t just ticking, but it’s about to run out of time.
Pointing up Australia’s failure to tackle the issues of getting cruise back to sailing are the actions of others governments. Cruising is resuming around the world across Asia, Europe and the US, meaning large lines like Royal, Caribbean and Carnival will be forced to move their vessels to where they can take passengers and start making enough to pay off the huge loans they have incurred during the pandemic pause of 14 months.
However, the extension of the ban and the following cancellations from Cunard and Seabourn have crushed this positivity, with Royal Caribbean looking like they could be the next to fall.