Projected drop only a blip: manager

A smattering of cabin lights are on as Celebrity Edge, the penultimate cruise ship for the season...
A smattering of cabin lights are on as Celebrity Edge, the penultimate cruise ship for the season, docks in Port Chalmers on Easter Monday. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY
Port Otago is confident an expected 20% hit to their cruise ship numbers next season is only a temporary blip.

At an international cruise industry conference in Miami this week, projections emerged that next season could see an expected decline of about 200 port calls across the country.

Port Otago commercial manager Craig Usher said it was expecting about 100 cruise ships next season, dropping roughly 20% from last season’s expectations.

But the news of decreased ship numbers did not come as much of a concern, and would only be temporary, he said.

People were "fixated" on the amount of ships coming into port when it was actually the spread of vessels that was more important.

Larger vessels could bring more tourists to our shores, which was better than 200-odd ships carrying only small amounts, he said.

"With the geopolitical factors at play it’s probably not a concern.

"It’s just something for us to be conscious of that these things are not guaranteed.

"For us it’s making sure we have a great attractive end-to-end product in Dunedin and around New Zealand, because the network is critical."

Issues in the Red Sea had impacted cruise ships’ passages between New Zealand to Europe, adding between 10 and 12 days to a trip with limited stopping destinations available, he said.

"The last couple of years, the cruise-lining industry lost billions of billions of dollars, so they have got to be prudent about their decisions going forward," Mr Usher said.

"We can’t really bag them because they’re doing the right thing for them financially."

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, Mr Usher said Port Otago had been tracking "significantly up" towards between 140 and 150 cruise ships in a season.

While that had disappeared, the numbers had come back stronger than expected.

Mr Usher said Port Otago was expecting levels of about 100 for the next two cruise seasons, but it was still difficult to gauge the trends post-pandemic and because patrons booked cruise ships years in advance.

"I don’t expect us to go back to what everyone thought it was going to be in the past — we might go back to that 130 mark, so somewhere between 100 and 130."

The New Zealand network needed to work together to provide a good customer service, both at port and inland.

"It’s a commercial environment so you’ve got to make sure you put your best foot forward at the end of the day."

Cr Sophie Barker, who has a seven-year background as a business development adviser, said there was a "huge amount" of pent up demand post-pandemic and a lot of people had accumulated covid cruise credits.

While smaller vessels may produce more spending per head than larger vessels, getting people through the city is what counted.

"In the end, I guess it’s all about the numbers of people through the city and that’s really important because there’s quite a high return rate as well."

If less vessels but more visitors sailed to the city, capacity pressures on buses and attractions could arise.

A lot of geopolitical competition meant New Zealand needed to sell itself as a destination, while keeping vigilant about competition from other ports, she said.