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While cruise ships are not covered by the planned quarantine-free travel bubble, there are some in Dunedin who await the return of the floating palaces to Otago Harbour just as eagerly.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern this afternoon announced that a quarantine-free travel between New Zealand and Australia would begin on April 19.
Since the maritime borders were closed due to Covid=19, Port Otago had lost about $8 million in revenue from cruises in Port Chalmers and Fiordland, Port Otago chief executive Kevin Winders said.
Cruises operating within a transtasman bubble would restore a large portion of overall passengers in the market as well, Mr Winders said.
Up to 70% of Dunedin cruise ship passengers were from Australia, he said.
Further, there was not only pent-up demand, but credits from cruise companies could all but guarantee passengers.
Cruise companies offered deals for future travel rather than refunding tickets when the maritime borders closed. Until then, many people could only wait.
"Everyone’s staring at that transtasman bubble," Mr Winders said.
Heart of Dunedin spokeswoman Nina Rivett said several city centre businesses had indicated the lack of cruise ship visitors had hurt, but health remained the overriding priority during the pandemic.
Visitors would undoubtedly be welcomed, she said, once it was officially safe for cruise ships to return and all necessary checks and measures were in place.
Cruise ships brought in a significant number of Larnach Castle’s total visitors, and international visitors were crucial for the business long term, director Norcombe Barker said.
However, it would hurt the business more if the markets opened up and it resulted in a lockdown, Mr Barker said.
About 75% of Monarch Wildlife Cruises and Tours business was international, owner Neil Harraway said.
His company had been helped by the Government’s strategic tourism assets protection programme funding, which could help it survive to next summer.
The company had budgeted for low numbers and winters were typically quiet.
He had his fingers crossed that when summer returned, a transtasman bubble would be in place, and cruise ships would be able to operate as well as aircraft.
New Zealand Cruise Association chief executive Kevin O’Sullivan said at the moment there were bookings for October on cruises scheduled for the country, but those bookings could soon be in jeopardy without a clear position from the Government.
Before Covid-19, the cruise ship industry was worth about $690million to the New Zealand economy, he said.
Cruises were up and running in parts of Asia and Europe already, and they were scheduled to return to the United Kingdom next month, he said.
The cruise schedule stopping had been hard for some Dunedin businesses, Dunedin Railways among them, Dunedin Mayor Aaron Hawkins said.
But a big question was whether people would want to go back to travelling on cruise ships in such large numbers, Mr Hawkins said.
The industry could evolve to smaller, more boutique trips.
Even before Covid-19, tourism spending in Dunedin came from domestic travellers, he said.
International visitors were important, but the city was less exposed than other parts of the region.
The Dunedin City Council was reviewing the city’s destination plan, which offered people the opportunity to think about where Dunedin might focus its efforts in attracting visitors when restrictions eased, Mr Hawkins said.
Enterprise Dunedin director John Christie said the review was timely, given it was unlikely tourism would go back to the way it was before Covid-19 for quite some time.
"We need to look at new opportunities and how Dunedin will present itself as a visitor destination in the future," he said.
Consultation continues on the plan to May 14.