Concern at cruise ship cancellations in 'terrible' season

Peter Brown.
Peter Brown.
Port Otago is worried cruise ships making hasty decisions to forgo visiting Milford Sound will have ''significant flow-on effects'' for Dunedin.

Bad weather resulted in the cancellation of seven cruise ship visits to Port Chalmers and nine to Fiordland, where Port Otago also supplies piloting services.

At a cruise ship season debriefing yesterday, Port Otago commercial manager Peter Brown said the season had been terrible, which had quite an impact on the company's revenue, as it had for retailers and tour operators.

The company was most concerned by the number of cancellations for Milford Sound, previously a ''pinnacle'' stopover, based on very early weather forecasts.

''[Cruise ship companies] are not taking the advice of local pilots on board. The decision's being made in Seattle, Los Angeles or Florida.''

That decision had ''significant flow-on effects'' for Dunedin, he said.

Port Otago hoped to work with the cruise ship companies to encourage them not to make the decision too early and to take advantage of the pilots' local knowledge of weather patterns.

''I suspect by missing Fiordland they're sacrificing a little bit to make some money. It's cheaper to stick with the schedule, steam slower and save some money.''

Cruise Ship New Zealand board member Craig Harris said more ship visits to Milford had been cancelled this year, but it was purely due to bad weather and for passenger comfort.

It had mostly affected ships travelling from Australia, when captains were looking two to five days in advance on their ''sophisticated weather equipment'' and decided to avoid bad weather and only go as far south as Akaroa.

''It happened mostly in the early part of the season in the spring weather.''

Mr Brown said feedback from ships that did visit Dunedin was mostly positive, although issues had been raised about improving signage, even though it had been upgraded for the season.

Given the controversy surrounding iSite handling the bookings for tours at the wharf, Port Otago was reassessing how it would handle passengers next season, he said.

''Private tour operators' vehicles will not ever be allowed back on the wharf ... everything else is on the table.''

While some operators said revenues were well down this season - they believed because they could not directly market their services to passengers on the wharf - others commented they had a better-than-usual season.

Suggestions from operators and retailers at the meeting for a better way of doing things ranged from staff making pitches to passengers from cardboard booths to businesses using interactive digital displays to promote their wares.

All would be considered by the Cruise Ship Action Group in developing a plan for next season, Mr Brown said.

That plan would be brought back to those involved in the industry in late May for endorsement, he said.

Mr Brown said businesses had to heed University of Otago marketing lecturer Dr James Henry's findings from the season which showed only 3% of cruise ship passengers, or 60 to 100 people, had not made a tour booking before getting off the ship.

Dr Henry said 73% of passengers looked for activities in Dunedin before they began their cruise and 23% once they had started.

If a Dunedin operator did not appear on internet review or search sites Trip Adviser or Google or was not a cruise ship-pushed tour, they would probably not be in business, he said.

''[Passengers] check out how you rate and if you rate poorly they'll not go any further - it's three hits, then they make a booking.''

Council iSite manager Louise Van de Vlierd said there had been a large increase in people booking before they got off the ship, so not as many needed the help of iSite as expected.

The extra investment made to be at Port Chalmers did not have the turnover to match, she said.

New Zealand Transport Agency journey manager Graeme Hall called for a small group of operators to be formed to help the agency develop an incident plan to be used when unexpected events occurred on State Highway 88, such as the roadworks which delayed traffic in December.

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