In a major breakthrough for the region, luxury adventure cruise line Ponant has been given “conditional approval” to sail in New Zealand waters.

The move follows the Cruise Lines International Australasia model of sailing only with New Zealanders in New Zealand waters.  The model is under consideration by the Australian government.

Ponant said in a statement: “Following months of engagement with New Zealand’s Ministry of Health, Ponant… has received conditional approval for their small luxury expedition vessel, Le Lapérouse, to recommence operations exclusively in New Zealand waters, for New Zealanders from February 2021.”

The statement went on to recall the line, along with sister company Paul Gauguin Cruises, has operated over 60 expeditions and cruises over the past 6 months with eight of their eleven small ships operational in France, Iceland, the Arctic, Russia, Corsica, Sardinia and French Polynesia.

“No other tourism company has had their health and sanitary protocols so robustly tested by multiple jurisdictions,” said the statement.

Sarina Bratton, Chairman Asia Pacific for Ponant, said:  Our excitement is two-fold: Firstly, to have the opportunity and privilege to offer ‘Bubble Expeditions’ for Kiwis, enabling exploration of some of the most remote and inaccessible parts of that country, so rich in natural beauty and extraordinary wildlife.

“And secondly, to support our partners and deliver economic benefit to New Zealand.”

 Kiwi travel agents, tour operators, ground operators, airlines, port authorities, food and beverage suppliers, technical suppliers, fuel suppliers, service and waste suppliers all benefit from our small ship operation.”

She added: “This is an important step forward and it takes us closer to the time when borders re-open and cruising resumes in Australia – and to when we will be able to confirm the return of our luxury expedition small ships.”

Cruise Lines International Association Australasia welcomed the conditional approval. CLIA Managing Director Australasia Joel Katz said the domestic operations Ponant planned in New Zealand were an example of the carefully controlled regional approach CLIA has proposed for the resumption of restricted cruise operations in New Zealand and Australia.

“Cruise lines have developed extensive new health protocols in response to COVID-19 that go well beyond the measures of almost any other area of the travel industry,” Mr Katz said. “By creating bubble itineraries for New Zealanders only, operating exclusively within New Zealand, we see an opportunity to help revive the tourism economy while at the same time offering protective protocols against outside infection.”

CLIA has outlined extensive new health protocols to governments in New Zealand and Australia as part of a global response to COVID-19 by the cruise industry.

“Such measures have already allowed limited cruise operations to resume in other regions including Europe and Asia,” Mr Katz said. “CLIA will continue to work closely with governments in Australasia to establish a responsible pathway towards resumption that will uphold safety while also helping to revive an industry worth more than $5 billion a year our region’s economy.”