Cruise ship trade forecast to boom

Voyager of the Seas is due to visit Dunedin this summer. Photo supplied.
Voyager of the Seas is due to visit Dunedin this summer. Photo supplied.
Larger cruise ships will bring a record 230,000 passengers and crew into Dunedin this season.

The 2012-13 season, which begins with the arrival of the Sea Princess on October 14, is expected to bring 88 ships with up to 161,261 passengers and 69,631 crew on board.

Port Otago commercial manager Peter Brown said it would be another record season, up from 83 port visits last year. Ships were about 23% bigger and average passenger numbers were up 36% per vessel when compared with the previous season.

The port company could easily handle the longest vessel (317m) expected this season, and had conducted simulation trials to ensure large vessels could navigate safely through the channel.

This season would bring a dozen "double-up days". One would bring more than 7000 visitors to the city, the equivalent of 18 full Boeing 747-400s.

Mr Brown said this season a marquee would be sited on the wharf, offering Wi-Fi and visitor information, and would "provide a slightly more upmarket waiting area for passengers".

Cruise ship visits were an increasingly valuable part of the port company's commercial operation, and for the greater Dunedin economy, he said.

"It is business as usual for us, but it is business that we enjoy seeing at the port, and that is good for the whole region."

Tourism Dunedin and the Dunedin City Council established ties more than a year ago to help Port Otago prepare the city for each cruise-ship season.

Tourism Dunedin chief executive Hamish Saxton said the city was geographically blessed to be either the first or last New Zealand stop for passengers, and was the second most visited centre after Auckland.

Many passengers said they treated a cruise as a way of initially sampling a country before returning later to explore in depth.

The cruise industry was the fastest-growing travel sector in the world and appeared to be affecting other sectors, such as coach tours.

Craig Harris, of Cruise New Zealand, said one highlight of the 2012-13 season would be the arrival of the largest ship in terms of passenger numbers, Voyager of the Seas. The vessel, with 3100 passengers and 1100 crew, is scheduled to make its maiden voyage to Dunedin on November 17, and is due to visit the city a further five times.

Another large vessel, Celebrity Solstice, and its 2800 passengers and 1200 crew, will make its maiden Dunedin voyage on December 15, and is expected to visit a further six times.

"You are getting in bigger ships, and some reasonably exciting things happening now."

Interest was growing in the Asia-Pacific region. The Panama Canal had been widened and was expected to take larger vessels for the 2015 season, so further growth was anticipated.

"Expect more of these larger ships. The cruise lines are indicating to us we might get vessels of 3500 [passengers] in 2015-16. It is all starting to happen."

Dunedin rated highly. Passengers travelling with the industry's two major cruise brands, Carnival and Royal Caribbean, scored Dunedin between 85% and 90%.

"Most places would be very happy with that," Mr Harris said.

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