Dearth of cruises to dent council income

There are  just 23 bookings for the 2020-21 season. Photo: ODT files
There are just 23 bookings for the 2020-21 season. Photo: ODT files
Southland's regional council will miss out on more than $3 million this cruise season and more cancellations expected.

Ports up and down the country have experienced a quieter summer, as border restrictions halted international tourism.

Environment Southland harbourmaster Lyndon Cleaver said there were now 23 bookings for the 2020-21 season.

"If those 23 bookings remain, the council would expect to collect $147,000 in marine fees, compared to approximately $3.2 million from 131 bookings that were in place at the start of the season."

More cancellations were expected, as some of the remaining cruise industry bookings would be in a holding pattern until the government made a decision on whether or not to reopen the sea borders to cruises.

"The bookings are very tentative at this stage."

Heritage Expeditions was given dispensation by the Government late last year to begin operating domestic cruises.

So far there had been five scheduled cruises, with eight yet to take place.

One cruise was scheduled but was cancelled.

Up to the middle of March, the only passenger ship listed to arrive at Bluff’s South Port was Heritage Expeditions’ Spirit of Enderby (Professor Khromov) .

The ship’s destinations were the Subantarctic Islands and the Antarctic.

Ponant was also given approval to operate domestic cruises, starting February 20.

It had four bookings scheduled at this stage.

The cruises would dock and depart from areas including Bluff, Milford Sound and Lyttelton.

Mr Cleaver said the Environment Southland marine fee had been in place since 2001, as part of its coastal plan.

"It aims to generate revenue to fund coastal management for Southland, including harbourmaster functions, hazard management, science programmes and marine biosecurity programme."

Port Otago worked a little differently, in that it was Otago Regional Council-owned.

So far, Port Otago chairman Paul Rea said, the port had just one visiting cruise this season, and he was unsure of any others scheduled.

This compared with last year’s season of 131 scheduled cruises, 11 of which were cancelled due to the border closure.

While visiting ships were not charged a marine fee, they were charged for berthing and tugs.

"Over a season that is a significant amount of money."

There was no real way to recover lost revenue until cruises came back, Mr Rea said.

He said that while the port was hurting, it was not fatal.

"We will recover and we will continue to support our shareholder with dividends."

An Otago Regional Council spokesman said it did not receive any income directly from cruise ships via marine or other fees.

"Dividends are not expected to be affected and expectations remain in line with the Port’s SCI."

Enterprise Dunedin director John Christie previously told the Otago Daily Times that from October to April, Dunedin once hosted 130 ships and 250,000 passengers, but it could take years to rebuild to the market that existed pre-Covid.

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