Cruise bosses hail revival of industry despite COVID-19 outbreaks
Almost a year after their return to Australian ports, cruises will soon welcome as many passengers as they did before COVID-19, industry bosses say.
Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) says Australia has undergone a cruising renaissance over the summer peak season and was on track to return to "pre-pandemic prosperity" by the end of the year.
Cruises were banned by the federal government from March 2020 to March 15, 2022, after passengers on the Ruby Princess spread the virus, with the first returning ship sailing out of Sydney Harbour at the end of May last year.
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Domestic cruises were only allowed at first, but now international sailings have also returned.
More than 40 international cruise ships have returned Australia so far and by next summer there will be 60, CLIA said.
Cruises are worth an estimated $5 billion to the economy and support 18,000 Aussie jobs via everything from food supplies to engineering.
"Globally, cruise passenger volumes are expected to return to pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2023 and the Australian market is showing every sign that it too has embraced the worldwide cruising revival," CLIA managing director Australasia Joel Katz said.
"Cruise tourism brings economic opportunities to ports and destinations right around the country, including many regional areas and remote communities.
"It benefits a huge range of local businesses, like travel agents, tour operators, hotels, restaurants and retailers, plus a whole spectrum of suppliers like transport workers, farmers, food and beverage providers, entertainers, port workers and maritime service providers."
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There have been multiple COVID-19 outbreaks on ships, with mask rules brought back after being dropped.
But industry bosses have said they never expected there to be no cases.
Business leaders say cruise passengers are helping Sydney in particular "restore its mojo."
"The return of cruise ships has helped restore a sense of excitement, attracted local people back to the city and added to the tourism economy with visits from thousands of international cruise passengers," Business Sydney executive director Paul Nicolaou said.
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Hotels are also benefiting from cruise passengers, tourism bosses say.
"To witness the many guests arriving at hotels in Sydney this summer as the cruise ships dock in Circular Quay and White Bay is a wonderful sight to see for our industry," Tourism Accommodation Australia and Accommodation Association chief executive officer Michael Johnson said.
"The cruise tourism industry plays a major part in the occupancy and food and beverage spend in city and regional hotels around the country, which had sadly been missing since COVID."
In 2019, CLIA said more than 1.2 million Australians took an ocean cruise, representing 4.8 per cent of the population or almost one in 20 Australians.
Cruise rules remain
Passengers must still follow COVID-19 rules, including being vaccinated, taking a test before embarking and wearing masks in public areas.
If they become ill on the ship, they risk having to isolate in their cabin and not being allowed off at ports.
Ships must tell authorities if they have COVID-19 cases on board before they dock.
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