Tour operators left frustrated

The Seven Seas Explorer Photo: Regent Seven Seas / Supplied
The Seven Seas Explorer, one of the ships to cancel their trip to Dunedin already this summer. Photo: Regent Seven Seas / Supplied
Dunedin tourism operators are willing to take cruise ship cancellations on the chin — as long as they do not become too regular.

Biosecurity concerns have scuppered a series of scheduled arrivals in Otago Harbour this summer, but as the cruise industry restarts after two years in dormancy because of Covid-19, operators are now "desensitised" to disruptions in the industry.

Queen Elizabeth and its nearly 2000 passengers was expected to berth in Dunedin tomorrow, but instead was redirected to Adelaide due to biosecurity concerns.

The change in schedule left tourism operators dealing with a full day of cancelled tours.

Horizon Tours owner and tourism industry group Dunedin Host chairwoman Kylie Ruwhiu-Karawana said the cancellation was frustrating for everybody involved.

The passengers did not want to miss their tours, the cruise companies did not want to miss stops and tourism operators did not want to miss out on the business.

She had been in Dunedin’s tourism industry for more than 10 years and in that time about 10% of all cruise ships had failed to come in to port.

The reasons varied, whether it be strong gusts, dense fog or an outbreak of norovirus.

"The frustration for this one is that it was avoidable."

Horizon Tours had booked a full day with passengers wanting to see Dunedin, but all were cancelled.

Some tours were booked a year in advance.

Tourism operators were "desensitised" to being disrupted as it was a frequent part of the job, but especially now following Covid-19.

The cancellation of Queen Elizabeth was just a reminder "you don’t put all your eggs in one basket", she said.

As long as ships not being allowed to berth for biohazard reasons did not become a trend, it would not significantly impact the allowances made for usual operations.

"It’s still a pain in the butt, but you just have to take it on the chin."

However if a larger ship could not visit, such as Ovation Of The Seas with space for almost 5000 passengers, then the hit on business would be felt much more.

The Scottish Shop Dunedin manager Kaye Foster said her store had expected cancellations during the season.

She would not be concerned unless there was a "flurry" of cancellations.

"On the days cruises have been cancelled, it’s been a lot quieter than we thought it would be," she said.

"If it’s small ships cancelling it probably wouldn’t make a huge difference — we’re not too worried at this stage."

NZ Shop supervisor Mike Sannum said his store would start getting concerned if cancellations continued.

Jules Radich
Dunedin Mayor Jules Radich said every cancellation was disappointing for tourism operators, especially after years of tough business with Covid-19.

"But there are plenty more cruise ships scheduled to visit over the next few months."

It was vital Dunedin preserved its unique natural environment while still attracting visitors.

"As long as their hulls are clean, we’re ready to welcome them."

Biosecurity New Zealand environmental health manager Paul Hallett said Queen Elizabeth visited New Zealand in December, when it was asked to restrict its visits to approved ports where MPI had biosecurity staff located, regular marine surveillance and ships stayed in regular vessel pathways.

The vessel would be allowed to visit areas with special marine environments, such as Dunedin and Fiordland, once the agency had seen evidence the ship was cleaned to a satisfactory level.

"We know that nearly 90% of marine pests arrive in this country on the submerged surfaces of international vessels and we have some of the highest biofouling standards in the world."

Biosecurity New Zealand and the Cruise Association say they are working together to reduce the number of cruise ships being sent for last-minute cleaning.

Over the past month, four cruise ships have been denied entry or given only restricted access to New Zealand ports because of algal build-up or invasive species attached to their hulls.

A joint meeting was held yesterday between Biosecurity NZ and the New Zealand Cruise Association to address the growing numbers of ships needing extra cleaning when they were already on their way to the country.

Association chief executive Kevin O’Sullivan said an increase in biosecurity inspections may be contributing to the issue.

"Nothing in particular has changed, with the exception that there was probably more inspections being carried out this season because of the gap since ships were here last."

During the pandemic, many ships were docked for months or years — giving algae, barnacles and other organisms the perfect opportunity to grow.

Now, a shortage of international cleaning facilities meant some were missing out on regular cleaning.

Of the 6121 international vessel that arrived in New Zealand from January 1, 2020 to September 2022, 6% (377) were issued a notice of direction to address biofouling issues.

High-risk organisms included bivalves, such as mussels and oysters, and mobile organisms, such as crabs and starfish, he said.

Queen Elizabeth will still dock in Wellington, Lyttelton, Tauranga and the Bay of Islands.

Over the course of this cruise ship season, Seven Seas Explorer, Coral Princess, Viking Orion, and Star Breeze have all cancelled calls to the city. 


Additional reporting Cas Saunders and RNZ