Cruising is set to become one of New Zealand’s fastest growing international visitor sectors in the next two years, with passenger arrivals set to almost double, increasing to almost 200,000 – an increase of over 450% since 1996.

The sector is a major economic contributor and generates millions in direct spend to the New Zealand economy – a
spend that’s expected to nearly double by the end of the 2011/12 season. However, the increasing number of ships and passengers does present its own set of problems. A report released at the end of September confirms that New Zealand’s holiday cruise market has emerged as a tourism and economic powerhouse, but it is at significant risk without an investment in infrastructure, according to Cruise New Zealand.

The report, commissioned by Cruise New Zealand states that, in spite of the global financial crisis, the cruise industry is recording strong growth. However, there’s an ongoing concern that port facilities will not sustain that growth.

Craig Harris, chairman of Cruise New Zealand and chief executive of ISS-McKay in Auckland, says that the forecast for New Zealand’s cruise industry is huge. “With more and larger ships forecast to visit New Zealand in the coming years, Auckland’s Princes Wharf is no longer adequate. The industry’s key concern at present is for the decision of a centrally-based cruise terminal that will be future-proofed for larger ships”, said Mr. Harris. Additional concerns include berth congestion, processing such large volumes of people and adequately transporting them around the region. This congestion with berthing and logistics will also become a problem for the other ports around New Zealand.

Commenting on the study, Ann Sherry, CEO of Carnival Australia, which operates P&O Cruises, says: “New Zealand has the potential to become a key maritime hub in the Pacific but, while almost every aspect of the industry is on a positive trajectory, the cautionary message about appropriate infrastructure investment is timely. It would be a tragedy if the industry’s double digit growth from year to year was slowed and its potential economic contribution to the economy reduced because of inadequate berthing, terminal and transport arrangements.”

Ms Sherry points out the cruise industry’s remarkable expansion will receive added impetus with the arrival in December of P&O Cruises’ superliner Pacific Pearl. As the only cruise business to homeport from New Zealand, P&O Cruises contributes around NZ$500,000 to the local economy with each and every ship turnaround. In produce alone, P&O Cruises buy up to NZ$2 million worth of goods from eleven existing local suppliers each cruise season and is negotiating with another five to support Pacific Pearl.

I believe that investment into facilities is not something that should be on a wish-list … it should be highlighted in bold, red lettering, underlined and moved immediately to a very important To Do list.

Surely, a spend of this nature has to be seen as just slightly higher in terms of priorities than the recent refurbishments to Auckland’s Aotea Square, for example, which totalled some $85million? Yes, some of the work was absolutely necessary, but there were peripheral improvements to the Square that really didn’t need to be tackled.

Safe travels.

“Ships are the nearest things to dreams that hands have ever made” – Robert N. Rose