Maritime / Maritime & Transport

Cruise industry sets sail for regional ports

Chris WhiteAustralia’s busiest summer cruise season is about to start with almost 800 ship visits scheduled over the next few months and it’s not only the capital city ports such as Sydney and Melbourne that will experience cruising’s popularity.  Chris White, Chairman, Cruise Down Under & Group Manager Product Marketing, Tourism Victoria joins us to provide an insight into the cruise industry’s growth and discusses the impact of cruising for Australia’s regional ports.

The Australian cruise market is in boom. What is the profile of your average customer and has this profile changed throughout the years?

The demographics of cruise passengers are changing significantly. When you review the research over the past decade it reveals that in 2004 the average age of a cruise passenger was 55 years. By 2008 it had reduced to 46 years. The current Australian cruise demographics show that 50 per cent are under the age of 50 years and 25 per cent are under the age of 40 years. Only 33% are over the age of 61 years. The pricing and value offered by cruise seems to be driving the interest of the younger cruiser along with the multi-generational families booking a cruise.

How far ahead are cruising schedules planned and is the market susceptible to external factors such as the Australian dollar’s exchange rate?

Traditionally cruise lines planned 2-3 years in advance and published itineraries 18 months to two years in advance. However incidents such as the terrorist attacks in America on September 11, 2001 and significant economic events such as the Global Financial Crisis, resulted in the cruise industry reviewing their planned deployments and moving ships to regions less impacted by these circumstances at shorter notice in some instances with as little as 6-8 months’ notice. Now that things have started to stabilise again, lead times are heading back to the 2 year average.

cruise-shipThe cruise industry’s quick response and subsequent redeployment of ships to Australia following the GFC is good example of cruise lines looking at global circumstances and responding accordingly. When cruise lines became aware that the Australia economy had not gone into recession, unlike many of America’s source markets, and that there was latent demand for cruising amongst Australian consumers, they moved several ships here on a full year or seasonal basis. This has continued for a number of years.

Global markets are indeed susceptible to a range of external factors such as the economy of source markets, climate, security issues etc. Consumers are incredibly savvy and take many factors into consideration when they make their travel decisions.

Cruise Market Watch recently reported that all the cruise ships in the entire world filled at capacity all year long still only amounts to less than ½ of the total number of visitors to Las Vegas. Can we expect new industry initiatives in order to diversify cruising’s popularity?

In my experience the cruise industry is one of the most responsive to changes in consumer preferences and responding accordingly.  I am constantly amazed at how quickly cruise lines innovate their onboard product, introduce new ports and shore excursion programs etc. With the growth of cruising in Australia, the cruise industry is currently looking for new ports and itineraries as many of their marquee ports are nearing capacity at peak times of the year.

This is where the opportunity exists for regional ports, however I should also add that the capacity of regional ports to host cruise ships could be impacted by their capacity to cater for the newer larger ships that are being constructed and some of which are now being deployed in Australian waters.

How can regional Australia expect to benefit from the opportunities of this growth?

As the marquee ports such as the capital city ports reach capacity, regional ports will see the benefits and indeed some are already seeing the benefit. If you look at Geelong, they will host five cruise ship visits this year, a record for them.  In a number of instances this arose because the Port of Melbourne was unable to accommodate the request from the cruise line for a berth. In the case of the Seabourn ships (Odyssey and Sojourn), two years ago Seabourn opted for Geelong because Melbourne was unavailable, but the cruise line received great customer feedback and are quite comfortable to now include Geelong and Melbourne in their itineraries.  So this is a win, win for all. The growth in domestic cruising is also driving companies such as Carnival Australia to look at introducing new itineraries to drive new and repeat bookings.

Regional ports tend to be located in some of Australia’s most remote and picturesque regions. How does location impact cruise operators?

Location is incredibly important to cruise lines.  They will only call at a port if there is something for their passengers to do!  So whilst a destination could have an amazing port if there are no tourism attractions in the surrounding area, then they will not include the port in their itinerary.  These attractions could be natural attractions, built attractions or the town or city itself.

Remote locations do however bring some challenges ie, can the ship berth alongside or do they need to anchor some distance from the shore. The former is always preferable for larger cruise ships, however if the destination is considered a ‘must do’ destination then cruise lines will look at an anchorage and tender arrangement.  On the shoreside remote locations may also have limited coaches, restaurants, toilet facilities etc. to cater for up to 2,000 passengers. To date regional Australia has been quite successful in accommodating ship visits and making them work. The economic benefits to regional areas is certainly worth the effort.

With the exception of the large bulk resource ports in the Pilbara, regional ports tend to be smaller than their capital city counterparts in terms of berth and land space and not all have permanent cruise facilities. How can the cruise industry work with ports to create better access for cruise ships and their passengers?

It is all about team work.  All levels of government local, state and federal along with the cruise lines and the ports have a role to play in creating better access for cruise ships.  They are many examples around Australia where this is happening.  A couple that come to mind are Eden, where the federal government has committed $10 million in funding to upgrade the port including the wharf facilities. In Cairns the State Government committed funds to significant dredging work to accommodate larger ships berthing at the Port of Cairns rather than the current arrangement of Yorkey’s Nob.

Tourism VictoriaHere in Victoria the State Government has committed funding to upgrading the berth at the Port of Portland in readiness for their inaugural cruise ship visit in March 2014. Tourism organisations such as Tourism Victoria also play a significant role both working with cruise lines and destinations to facilitate a visit. Cruise Down Under also plays a critical role in education of the industry including regional ports and tourism businesses who are going to visit from a ship visit.   If the shoreside experiences are there, the cruise lines will work with all parties to facilitate calls.

When a cruise ship’s in town, security and community access to the waterfront are concerns particularly relevant to regional ports. What avenues are available to meet the expectations and at times, conflicting requirements of various port users?

Cruise lines will work with staff at the port to ensure that the arrival of a cruise ship doesn’t disrupt normal business too much if the ship is berthing at the port. The access areas for anchorage ports are smaller than that of bringing a cruise ship alongside. The secure area needs to take in the area used for the tender vessels bringing passengers ashore and also returning to the ship. It usually does not take up the entire waterfront access. Good communication is critical to a successful visit for all parties.

From your experience, do you think there’s scope to further improve the engagement and cooperation between regional ports, national and state tourism agencies, shipping agents and inbound tour operators?

There is always room for improvement. I think that the CDU economic impact figures certainly support the benefits of cruise shipping to both capital city ports and also regional destinations. The interest of all port users needs to be a high priority and we all need to work together to ensure that the ports become effective facilitators of bringing visitors to a destination. Cruise Down Under continues to engage with all stakeholders to work with industry to ensure that the full growth potential of the sector is achieved.

P13M40 Email BannerChris White will be discussing the cruise industry at this year’s Regional Ports conference in  Geelong on the 20 November. For more details visit: www.informa.com.au/regionalports

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