Australia’s 2021 cruise season looks increasingly unlikely after two of Carnival’s biggest operators, P&O Australia and Princess, announced they would not be sailing until at least December 17.
The two Carnival Corp lines blamed the ongoing uncertainty around a pathway to resume Australia-only cruising after months of frustratingly fruitless talks between Cruise Lines International Association Australasia and state and territory health officials.
And Cruise Lines International Association Australasia (CLIA) MD Joel Katz said: “These latest cruise cancellations are a sign of the uncertainty the entire tourism industry is facing in Australia right now. A lack of action from governments and the absence of a clear plan for the future is putting thousands of jobs at risk and causing more disruption for the public.”
Responding to today’s National Cabinet announcement on future Covid-19 measures and a phased easing of travel restrictions, Mr Katz said governments need to include carefully managed domestic cruise operations within the early stages of their plans.
“Cruise lines globally have committed to stringent new health protocols in response to Covid-19 and these measures are already working successfully in other countries overseas,” Mr Katz said.
“Australia is now the only major cruise market in the world where no progress has been made towards a responsible cruise resumption. We need urgent action from governments to save jobs and revive economic opportunities for communities around the country.”
The news that the two biggest homeported lines see no hope of cruising before Christmas is a blow to the industry.
Royal Caribbean and Celebrity have already signalled their deployments are under review. This week, Royal Caribbean delayed requests for payment from the 70,000 passengers who currently hold bookings.
The extension to P&O’s voluntary pause applies to cruises scheduled to depart from 17 September to on or before the new date of 17 December, 2021.
Princess is also cancelling all cruises in and out of Australia through to 19 December 2021 “due to continued uncertainty regarding the timing for the resumption of cruise holidays in the region.”
Passengers booked on a cancelled cruise will be rebooked on an “equivalent cruise” in 2022.
The cruise industry has been discussing a framework for the re-start of domestic-only cruising with government and public health authorities since last October, but has yet to come to a conclusion with the state and federal governments.
Other major lines are also believed to be poised to concede there will be no cruising before the back end of the year. Normally, Australia and New Zealand’s wave season starts in October with daily vessels in almost every port across the nation.
Conversations with states like Queensland and NSW have been progressing, but a framework around foreign crews, quarantine and vaccinations was needed from the federal government’s powerful Australian Health Protection Principal committee (AHPPC).
However, the problem was getting a fair hearing, given all the other COVID related issues that were cropping up.
While the industry has done enormous amounts of work on health protocols and was now sailing in American, Europe and Asia, Australia – with the highest penetration of cruise in the world at more than a million passengers – was still at anchor because of the federal government’s failure to help prepare the framework that would allow states to consider a localise, phased cruise restart.
P&O Cruises Australia President Sture Myrmell said: “These discussions have been underway for some time and we look forward to the opportunity to agree a pathway for starting cruises that carry Australian residents on Australian itineraries.
“This is about the livelihoods of the thousands of individuals and small businesses, many family-owned businesses, who rely on the cruise sector. These businesses cover a range of activities such as the supply of fresh food, entertainment, shore tours, coach operators and marine engineering services.
“They are like every business in Australia – they need certainty, and I am concerned they may find it increasingly difficult to hang on without a clear pathway forward.”
Mr Katz said: “The suspension of cruising has already cost the Australian economy an estimated $6 billion and put more than 18,000 jobs at risk. We need governments to progress a firm plan for the future, so we can implement new health measures and work towards recovery.
“Extensive new health protocols have already been implemented by cruise lines in many countries around the world, with 100% testing of all guests and crew before boarding. Almost 600,000 passengers have successfully sailed under these measures since cruising resumed in other countries last year. Australia is now the only major cruise market in the world where there has been no progress towards implementing these measures.
“We believe Australia has an opportunity to bring cruising into our domestic bubble, offering local itineraries for Australians only with extensive health measures in place, and we’re calling on governments to help achieve this as soon as health conditions allow.”
Guests who rebook their replacement Princess cruises will maintain 2021 prices, or they can choose a Future Cruise Credit (FCC) equivalent to 100 per cent of their cruise fare paid including an additional non-refundable bonus FCC equal to 10 per cent of the cruise fare paid (minimum $25) or a full refund.
Requests to rebook cruises must be submitted on an online form by July 31. More information can be found online at Impacted & Cancelled Cruises. Passengers whose bookings have been affected will be notified of the pause and options available either directly or via their appointed travel agent.
Guests can track the progress of their future cruise credit or refund request via the tracking tool found on P&O’s website at www.pocruises.com.au.
Meanwhile, Azamara Cruises has also suspended its upcoming Australasian summer season, confirming the “difficult decision to replace many sailings between Sep 2021-May 2022 due to the ongoing complexities of cruise operations in Latin America and Australia”.
The move has seen the cancellation of 13 Azamara Journey voyages, including operations in Australia and New Zealand, as well as Japan and Asia.