Central businesses fear loss of trade

A plan for cruise-ship passengers to disembark at the Dunedin Railway Station has unsettled some central-city businesses.

The move has been proposed by Auckland company Renaissance Tours, which is the largest provider of shuttle bus transport for cruise-ship passengers in Dunedin.

The company believes the move would add to the experience passengers have in Dunedin and ease traffic congestion when cruise ships are visiting.

Renaissance's main Dunedin sub-contractor, Ritchies Coachlines, is backing the move and has raised the ante by suggesting the i-Site Visitor Centre be relocated to the railway station.

"It takes about an hour turnaround to take a coach from the port to the Octagon. We could save 15 to 20 minutes if we dropped them off at the railway station," Ritchies regional manager Malcolm Budd said last night.

"It makes absolutely no difference, financially, to us at all. It's purely about catering to the cruise-ship passengers while they're in Dunedin. They're only here for a short time and they want to do as much as they can."

Mr Budd has approached the Dunedin City Council about moving the i-Site Visitor Centre to the station.

"The railway station is the ideal place for a visitor centre.

"It's an iconic building, with vacant space which is owned by the DCC. Even the Taieri Gorge train would capitalise on it being there.

"Everybody who comes to Dunedin visits the railway station. It's the second-most photographed building in the southern hemisphere," he said.

"I personally feel the city is missing out. The railway station is the ideal opportunity."

Some Octagon retailers are angered by the proposal, saying it would disadvantage central-city businesses.

"If they move all the cruise-ship passengers to the railway station, how many are going to still come to the centre of town?" Octagon business owner John MacDonald asked yesterday.

"A lot of the cruise-ship passengers are in wheelchairs and walking frames and they're not going to make it up. For us to even consider allowing a bus company to dictate to us is naive. It [the present system] does work and it's worked for 10 years. The traffic still flows and nothing's closed off."

However, Mr Budd believed businesses should contribute if they wanted to piggy-back off cruise-ship trade.

"It can cost around $20,000 to put on 30 or 35 coaches, which the the big cruise ships need. Why should they pay for shuttles into town to line the businesses' pockets?

"If the businesses want them [passengers] dropped off at their door they should be contributing to the cost."

The Dunedin i-Site Visitor Centre is open every day of the year and services more than two million visitors annually.

The DCC has previously considered relocating the visitor centre to the railway station, but has been concerned at the distance from the railway station to the central shopping district.

A report last year estimated it would cost at least $100,000 to relocate.

Tourism Dunedin has also highlighted the need to consider all tourists to Dunedin and not focus only on cruise ships.

Mr Budd said he had filed a traffic management plan with the DCC for coaches to drop passengers in the car park area north of the Otago Farmers Market, which he hoped to have approved by the time the Voyager of the Seas visited, on December 28 nigel.benson@odt.co.nz

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