The new head of Australia’s peak cruising body has returned to the attack on how Sydney’s capacity problems are costing jobs and growth.
Carnival Australia’s president Sture Myrmell, the local head of seven of the world’s leading cruise brands, was appointed to chair Cruise Lines International Association Australasia, the body representing cruise ship owners.
“There is a vast reservoir of Australians yet to cruise, so the challenge for the industry is developing the capacity, both in ships and infrastructure, to attract such a large group of potential new-to-cruise holidaymakers,” he told Cruise Passenger.
On Sydney Harbour’s capacity problems, which will be the subject of a long-awaited state government plan for cruise, he said: “The fact that passenger growth in 2017 was held to 4.4 per cent after consecutive years of double digit growth is telling.
“We’ve often spoken of the ‘multiplier effect’ of cruising and how this benefits local suppliers of fresh produce, hotels, restaurants, tour operators and transport operators.
“So, there is a factor of lost opportunity in these areas if inadequate port facilities artificially curbs potential growth but it is encouraging that the focus is now well and truly on finding solutions. As an industry we will be playing our part.”
So what’s the solution? Can he see a day when the Queen Mary is tied up at a Botany’s container wharf?
“We shouldn’t get too far ahead of ourselves in terms of the ultimate solution to address port congestion in Sydney,” he said.
“We know that the NSW Government is considering all berthing options east of the Sydney Harbour Bridge but we are not picking winners. Technical assessments for all options are necessary so that a considered decision can be made.
“Our aim is to keep working with the government to find the best options to support the growth of the industry. In this context, the question of Queen Mary 2 berthing at Port Botany is hypothetical at this stage, although it is worth noting that the public loves the sight of iconic ships such as the Cunard flagship sailing into Sydney Harbour. It is part of the dynamic imagery that makes Sydney an attractive cruise destination the world over.”
And he is convinced that the Federal Government’s recent $300,000 financial contribution to the search for a Sydney Harbour solution shows politicians are now convinced of the value of the cruise industry’s $5 billion contribution to the national economy.
“There is growing awareness in government that real people, real business opportunities and real jobs sit behind that figure of $5 billion in economic contribution. There are hundreds of local suppliers of fresh produce, meat, fruit and vegetables, and wine, who benefit from their connection to cruising.
“Federal and state governments have picked up on this opportunity factor knowing that cruising supports more than 20,000 Australian jobs directly and indirectly. Without making any comment on whether Canberra’s interest is early or late, there is no doubt that cruising and encouraging its further growth are firmly on the radar.”
And he points to a recent deal in Brisbane between the government and Carnival Australia as a template.
“Brisbane is important at so many levels. It is an excellent turnaround port and the gateway to the Queensland cruise market in a state that holds the distinction of having more cruise destinations than any other in Australia.
“The recent announcement of a commercial agreement between the Port of Brisbane and Carnival Australia for a new International cruise terminal following the ACCC’s conditional approval of the project represents a ‘win win’ for cruising as well as the Queensland economy and means Brisbane can take its place on the cruising map for some of the world’s most iconic cruise lines and ships, that are too large for the current Portside facility.
“As Australia’s home brand based on more than 85 years of cruising from Australia, P&O Cruises is proud of the part it has played in opening up regional cruise destinations in Queensland and around the nation. Brisbane figures prominently in P&O’s forward program and in terms of new destinations, look out for a series of five 10-night cruises to Papua New Guinea including two during school holidays, which presents a great opportunity for family holidays to such an exotic destination.”
And for the future, Mr Myrmell sees growth by taking holidaymakers from hotels and resorts.
“Our main competition isn’t other cruise lines. Shore-based resorts and hotels are our real competition. Winning the new-to-cruise fraternity is all about letting them know that cruising is a great value holiday in which accommodation, meals and entertainment are part of the cruise fare along with opportunities for value added experiences and dining and entertainment opportunities.
“As an industry, we have also become more adept at listening to the market and giving people what they want across the demographic spectrum to literally offer something for everyone. A case in point is the strong growth in short break cruises which saw phenomenal growth of 14 per cent in 2017.”
And his goals for the coming year?
“My goal, both as head of CLIA and the leader of Australia’s largest cruise company, is to highlight how the cruise product has grown in its depth and sophistication over the past 10 years. There are light years between the product now and what existed a decade ago.
“The aim is to have Australians place cruising high on their consideration list for a great value holiday with fantastic experiences and great dining and entertainment opportunities in an environment where guests, to be frank, are spoilt rotten! I want to generate even greater word-of-mouth endorsement of a holiday option where guest expectations are routinely exceeded.”
Mr Myrmell is confident the spate of incidents involving security aboard ships earlier this year have now been dealt with.
“These are not hollow words when we say that the safety and security of passengers is our top priority. There have been some isolated incidents which attracted significant media attention, but I think there is also widespread confidence in cruising.
“So many people have now cruised, often multiple times, and they instinctively know that these incidents are completely out of character with their own positive experience of cruise holidays. They’ve seen the importance placed on the responsible service of alcohol and the effective onboard security presence along with a zero tolerance of excessive behaviour.”
And his favourite cruise? Well, this is where the popular Carnival Australia boss became evasive…
“Thinking of this new role with CLIA, I might pass on the invitation to name my favourite ship. After 25 years in the cruise industry here and overseas in onboard and shoreside roles, there would be a number of contenders for my favourite ship.
“But, if pressed, I would have to admit to having a soft spot for Pacific Explorer, which, in so many ways, has been the creative canvas for the evolution of P&O as a contemporary Australian cruise brand and for the distinctive look and feel of the fleet.”