I witnessed something at the annual Australian Cruise Association (ACA) Conference in Wollongong a fortnight ago, which I’ve dearly missed from my fellow New South Welshman – appetite for cruise.
Having made the nearly 90-minute trip from Sydney to the ‘Gong, I was welcomed not just by acceptance of the cruise industry, but excitement for it.
The Illawarra was originally meant to serve as the host of the 25th annual ACA conference a few years ago, but as it turns out, the COVID-induced delay resulted in perfect timing.
With the Government of New South Wales a few months ago crossing Botany Bay off the list as a potential new cruise terminal site, Wollongong left none unaware Port Kembla is a ready and willing option to serve as the elusive third greater Sydney passenger port.
The only problem, as you may have guessed, is Port Kembla is not in Sydney.
Without a Chinese-level aptitude for laying high-speed rail track, Wollongong will continue to remain 90 minutes away from the state capital for the foreseeable future, whether by car or train.
As much as Wollongong is not getting any closer to Sydney (despite the city spiderwebbing its way outward over the years), no new land is being freed up in and around Port Jackson.
This makes the prospect of a new cruise terminal with a decent proximity to downtown Sydney just as likely as a bullet train to Wollongong popping up to connect the two cities in an acceptable amount of time.
Either way, time is not a luxury possessed by the Port Authority of NSW.
Chief Executive Officer Philip Holliday noted as much at the ACA Conference, suggesting he may not live to see a third cruise terminal built in Sydney if the city’s cruise stakeholders continue to insist Garden Island is the only acceptable location.
Just as Mr. Holliday levelled with cruise a fortnight ago, it is time the industry levelled with itself: in the future there may be a third cruise terminal in Sydney Harbour, but it will likely not be at a time when any of us are alive.
Until then, unless NSW wants to increase its three losses per year to Queensland to four, it is time for the industry to return the loving embrace of Wollongong and focus on what could become one of the great cruise destinations in Australia.
Growth in Wollongong will not completely solve the capacity problem in Sydney, but it does improve it.
While premium cruise lines continue to battle it out for berths at Sydney’s two cruise terminals, more drive-focused brands such as Royal Caribbean International can enjoy the relative availability of Port Kembla.
This is a model used aplenty throughout the world; many cruise terminals in the United States and the United Kingdom are located a similar distance from their nearest large city, such as Port Canaveral, Cape Liberty, and Southampton.
Cruising out of a more isolated terminal often comes with a cheaper fare, which is why some passengers often drive up to four or five hours to keep the cost of their trip down.
After all, the privilege of cruising into and out of Sydney, and under the Harbour Bridge, is increasingly becoming a greater privilege, for both cruise line and passenger.
Competition for berths is red hot, just like Sydney’s property market, and as residents are being forced farther from the city, so too is our cruise industry.