The new chairman of the Australian Cruise Association, Philip Holliday expects state-by-state cruising to kick start local operations by early next year.

There will be more “cruises to nowhere” and a bigger mix of sea and land-based itineraries to give passengers more time to explore local destinations.

The return of bigger, international ships will be a phased approach as it will take between 60 and 90 days for major lines to prepare to cruise in local waters, he said in an exclusive interview with Cruise Passenger.

All this is subject to stricter health measures introduced by cruise lines, with passengers subject to 100 per cent testing pre-boarding for ships carrying more than 250 passengers.

“This will be balanced by the reduced capacity on the cruise ships in the early stages to comply with the social distancing requirement making the management of people moving through the ports and destinations much easier,” said Mr Holliday, who is also CEO of Port Authority of New South Wales.

Here is Mr Holliday’s Q&A with Cruise Passenger.

What are your members’ plans for the restart of cruising in Australia. 

 Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, ACA has worked even more closely with our partner cruise industry associations such as Cruise Lines International Association Australasia (CLIA) and the New Zealand Cruise Association along with our US and European counterparts as well as the International Association of Ports and Harbours and the Global Port and Association Network to gather information for our members and work cohesively to develop plans for the re-start of cruise in this region.

ACA is also part of a key stakeholder group that is well progressed in working through a set of comprehensive procedure documents to ensure a unified approach is taken toward a safe and successful re-start for passengers, crew and community.

These processes will provide regulatory detail to support the ports which are already well advanced in the implementation of their COVID safety plans.

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Philip Holliday

With borders closed and limited flights, do you think cruise itineraries will be limited to small Australian-flagged ships and confined to sailing in local waters offering Australian circumnavigation voyages. 

 With borders re-opening, we can look forward to domestic cruising hopefully in the early part of next year working within all the designated health and hygiene procedures.

This may mean that we initially see local state by state cruising with our regular home-based operators and then eventually with the return of the larger cruise ships into our waters. We may see “cruises to nowhere” or more likely a mix of sea and land-based itineraries which allow more time to explore destinations. APT for example is already proposing a July 2021 Kimberley cruise for Western Australia which includes a nine-night cruise and a four-night land-based stay.

One of our members, Viking Cruises has already announced details of a 2021-2022 World Cruise which spans 136 days, 27 countries and 56 ports. The itinerary will include two new Australian ports of call.

We are also hopeful that the international cruise lines will see Australia as a viable year-round destination for cruising. Ship visits during our winter period when the Top End of Australia including Western Australia, the Northern Territory and Queensland still enjoy tropical temperatures would help to extend our season.

What we do know is that there is a strong cruising fraternity out there who have been very vocal about their excitement to get back on cruise ships in Australia and explore all there is to offer and we look forward to welcoming them back.

How quickly could our ports be back in operation once there is a resumption of cruising?

Many of our major ports have remained in continuous operation but have now focused more on cargo operations. As such, we foresee a smooth re-start process.

We will also see a phased approach to the re-start of cruising with plenty of advance notice. As none of the major cruise ships are currently in our waters, their return will take anywhere between 60 and 90 days taking into consideration crewing, sailing times and quarantine requirements.

What will be different about the port experience once cruising resumes?

A co-ordinated approach by the cruise lines, the ports and the destinations will be critical as we move towards the first departures.

One of the major impacts at the ports will be the screening of passengers to ensure they have complied with the commitment by the cruise lines to 100% testing pre boarding for ships carrying over 250 passengers.

This will be balanced by the reduced capacity on the cruise ships in the early stages to comply with the social distancing requirement making the management of people moving through the ports and the destinations much easier.

Pacific Edens Maiden Call to Historic PortlandWhat are your personal plans for the cruise association over the next 12 months

I am excited to work with our members on the re-start process. The shutdown of the cruise sector has not only had a major economic impact but it has taken a personal toll on many people so I can’t overestimate how great it will be to see the first ships arriving back into our ports.

Many interesting projects have also been completed or are nearing completion such as the impressive new Welcome Centre in Eden which is being built to complement the recent multi-million-dollar wharf extension. The international cruise terminal at Brisbane’s Luggage Point will also open this year and the wonderful new Museum of Underwater Art in Townsville has now opened. These exciting projects will ensure that Australia is cruise ready for our guests.

We are also looking forward to being with our colleagues again next year. The cancellation of our 2020 annual conference will make our September 2021 event in Townsville a fabulous celebration.