By Joel Katz, Managing Director Australasia, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA)
Wednesday’s Daily Telegraph made the message loud and clear: “ABANDON SHIP… AGAIN!” A double-page spread in the Sydney tabloid showed why Australian cruise passengers, travel industry workers and the wider cruise community feel abandoned by our governments.
The recent extension of Australia’s long-running cruise ban has come as another blow for cruise fans and for our industry, and this time the sting is especially sharp.
Many months of persistent efforts by CLIA and cruise lines had brought unmistakeable signs of progress within our governments over recent months. The need for a careful resumption of cruising had gained clear public backing from political leaders. Remember Health Minister Greg Hunt talking about cruising by Christmas?
Yet, as Australia begins opening borders and phasing in other forms of travel, the Federal Government has faltered when it comes to cruising.
As many cruise fans know, the cruise industry has worked hard to develop and implement the most stringent new health protocols to be found anywhere in tourism. In more than 80 countries worldwide, cruise ships are back in operation with these health measures in place. Close to five million passengers have sailed successfully since ships began returning to service last year, and the industry’s health protocols have shown to be successful in mitigating the risks of Covid-19.
Eighty percent of the global cruise fleet is now back in operation, but Australia remains one of the only major cruise markets in the world where governments have still yet to agree on plans for resumption.
This week, more cancellations were announced by cruise lines in Australia as a result of government uncertainty. We will soon have gone two years without major cruise operations in this country and the cost to the local economy will surpass $10 billion.
But governments are showing no sense of urgency. This week on Brisbane radio 4BC, Prime Minister Scott Morrison was challenged on this and asked when cruising would get a green light.
“The Federal Government is keen to move on this as soon as we can, and we’re waiting for the clearances out of the state health authorities,” Mr Morrison said. “They’ve got to get it right. And, so, we’re still being patient about it. But I agree we’ve got to get on with this.”
Travel agents, tourism operators and other workers who depend on cruising for their livelihoods can’t afford to be patient. Cruise passengers have had their patience stretched to the limit already. We need action now.
The extended cruise ban now runs until February 17. But the lack of certainty around what happens next – plus the long lead times needed to prepare ships and crew and return them to local waters – means we’re unlikely to see cruising return for several months beyond.
CLIA and cruise lines have had countless discussions with governments at many levels. We’ve presented extensive new health protocols in detail – measures that are already in place and working successfully overseas.
The time has come for governments to get serious about putting plans in place, for the sake of the 18,000 Australians whose jobs depend on cruise tourism and the many hundreds of thousands of Australians who love to holiday at sea.