With the announcement of the trans-Tasman travel bubble cruise ship operators want to run local trips, and sail to New Zealand, before extending their operations into the Pacific.
But the industry still doesn’t know if or when any cruises will be able to restart, according to tourism expert David Beirman.
He was part of a meeting last week between the tourism industry and Australian government to discuss the resumption of cruise trips.
“Governments around Australia have been very nervous about getting cruise ships going again, because of the Ruby Princess,” Dr Beirman told AAP.
It’s been just over a year since the ship disembarked thousands of passengers at Circular Quay in March 2020, sparking the biggest COVID-19 outbreak in the country at the time.
That same month, the entire global cruise ship industry decided to suspend its operations.
Federal authorities also banned international cruise ships from operating in Australia, and the restrictions were recently extended until mid-June.
But there are some exemptions for locally flagged smaller ships carrying less than 100 people, such as Cairns operator Coral Expeditions – one of the few Australian ships still allowed to operate.
A spokesman for the Cruise Lines International Association said COVID-19 bans had already cost the Australian and New Zealand economies more than $5 billion, and jeopardised an estimated 25,000 jobs.
He said the industry welcomed the travel bubble with New Zealand.
“However, the trans-Tasman bubble highlights the lack of progress being made towards a responsible resumption of local cruise operations,” he said in a statement.
The association says it’s developed global COVID restrictions, so that all guests and crew must return a negative test before embarking.
It’s also promised extensive quarantine, sanitation, and health monitoring protocols.
Dr Beirman says these restrictions are the most stringent in the Australian tourism sector – but that could prove a problem for the many travellers keen to return to cruising holidays.
“While all the comforts will still be there, the social part will still be heavily restricted,’ he said.
“But you don’t have a cruise ship called ‘the hate boat’ or the ‘I won’t talk to you boat’.”
Federal restrictions and customer expectations aren’t the only problems facing the beleaguered industry.
Because each Australian state has jurisdiction over its own waters, even when cruises are allowed to restart, they could be subject to sudden COVID restrictions imposed by state governments.
Dr Beirman says with the biggest cruise ships worth billions of dollars, the industry has a lot at stake.
“They must be really in pain at the moment, they went literally from boom to bust in the space of a few months.”
The cruise ship industry contributed more than $154 billion to the global economy in 2019.