by Bruce Pipercruise down under

Cruise Down Under (CDU) has confirmed ambitious plans to significantly boost its membership in the next 12 months, with the organisation’s recent 19th annual conference in Darwin hailed as a major success. More than 100 delegates took part in the event which was co-sponsored by Tourism NT and Tourism Top End, showcasing the territory’s capital and its port facilities which are ideally placed to benefit from the massive potential of the Asian cruise market.

CDU attracted a range of high profile speakers from across the globe who intrigued delegates with their insights into cruise operations, with many attendees focused on building cruise-ready land product to help their destinations make the most of cruise visitors. A highlight was a presentation from Royal Caribbean Cruise Line’s Rich Pruitt, who spoke on the global cruise industry’s strong commitment to environmental sustainability; while Michael Hackman from Genting Hong Kong gave an insight into the company’s recent acquisition of Crystal Cruises and its stunning growth aspirations – as well as big plans for Star Cruises in the Chinese market which include new builds featuring massive on-board wellness centres.

Darius Mehta, Silversea Cruises vice president of air and land programs, spoke about the company’s ongoing quest to offer passengers high quality shore experiences; while Crystal Cruises vice president of deployment, Claudius Docekal highlighted key factors which drive cruise line decisions about where they will operate their vessels. A presentation from Grant Gilfillan of the Port Authority of NSW raised the thorny issue of Sydney’s limited capacity and urged a cooperative approach from across the industry to come up with a solution.

The conference also gained perspective from “across the ditch”, with Raewyn Tan from Cruise New Zealand speaking about the organisation’s opposition to the planned imposition of a new border clearance levy which is set to significantly impact the cruise industry as the NZ government moves to a cost-recovery model likely to hamper the sector’s growth.

The event saw CDU chairman Stephen Bradford release details of the organisation’s 2014-15 Economic Impact Report, which confirmed that cruise ships visiting Australia delivered a whopping $1.9 billion in direct expenditure. The year saw records achieved across the board, with 874 ship arrivals including 427 lucrative turnarounds, where new passengers embark. Ships visited a total of 30 ports across the country during the year, and employment was also a key focus, with the report detailing a 10 per cent increase in direct jobs in the cruise sector to more than 9200.

Overall economic output was $3.3 billion, up 5.3 per cent despite a decline in total port-related expenditure due to falls in bunker fuel costs during the year. Passenger spending increased to just over $900 million, with CDU ceo Jill Abel saying the figures show that Australian cruising is “continuing to be a growth industry, with strong economic benefits for all involved and positive signs that Australian ports still feature highly on cruise line itineraries”.

Going forward prospects for the sector are very bright, with 2015/16 set to see seven new vessels arrive in Australia including Holland America’s Noordam, Princess Cruises’ Golden Princess, Explorer of the Seas from Royal Caribbean, Costa Cruises’ Costa Luminosa, Azamara’s Azamara Quest, Ponant’s Le Soleal and of course the expansion of the P&O Australia fleet with the addition of Pacific Eden and Pacific Aria in November this year. And the following year will see Royal Caribbean’s massive Ovation of the Seas arrive which will further showcase cruising to the Australian and New Zealand community.

The event wrapped up with the revelation that the 20th annual Cruise Down Under conference will take place in September next year in Sydney, backed by Sydney Ports and Destination NSW.

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