Port aims to build on cruise ship visits

Lucrative visitors provide tourism boost

TRACY NEAL
Last updated 12:58 05/05/2014
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TONY BENNETT

VISITORS AFLOAT: Luxury cruise ship MV Seabourn Sojourn arrives at Port Nelson in February.

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Port Nelson is aiming to attract between 12 and 15 cruise ships a year within the next four or five years, says port company chief executive Martin Byrne.

Speaking outside a Nelson Tasman Tourism industry forum last week that included a presentation on the global cruising industry, Byrne said Nelson was gaining traction as a cruise ship destination, but it was something that took a long time.

Six cruise ships visited Nelson this season and the same number were scheduled for next season after a break of several years.

Over the 2012-13 season 37 ships visited New Zealand, bringing 211,430 passengers and 82,368 crew.

In the year to June 2013, passengers disembarking cruise ships made up 2.6 per cent of total visitor arrivals.

In 2011 there were 20.6 million cruising tourists worldwide.

Cruise New Zealand chairman Graeme Marshall said in a presentation to the forum that if "cruise was a country of residence it would now rank third as a source of international visitors". He also said it was important to remember the contribution made by a cruise ship's crew.

"They also spend money and are great advocates for a destination," Marshall said.

Byrne said Port Nelson was doing some modelling on future capacity and what the port could handle. Passenger ships typically had less draft than cargo ships and were more manoeuvrable. Port charges were less because there was no cargo to handle, but they were still worthwhile in terms of revenue, Byrne said.

Figures presented at the forum showed there would be 22 new cruise ships built around the world by 2017, which would increase capacity by 73,876 more berths. Ships were all getting larger with new builds trending towards lengths of 320 metres and drafts of eight metres.

Port Nelson could accommodate ships of up to 300m, Nelson Tasman Tourism [NTT] figures showed. It described Nelson as a "cruise specific city" with potential and limitations.

Byrne said infrastructure to support passenger ship visits was not a major issue at Port Nelson, which had a big advantage in its proximity to the central city.

"A lot of ports around the world don't have terminals, but Nelson has good access and security and the port is so close to the city."

Marshall said that the Tourism 2015 National Strategy had for the first time identified "the immense importance the cruise industry contributes to the total tourism industry".

He said Cruise New Zealand - the industry body of New Zealand's cruise sector, had a mission to establish New Zealand as the cruise destination of choice in the South Pacific.

Marshall said Nelson was working hard to position itself in a market where overseas cruise line companies had not yet included it as a "must do" destination, but passenger feedback from those who had visited here was "exceptional".

"The high-end visitors are saying it's a class act here. Passengers aboard The World [private cruise ship] which recently visited went out and stayed in some of the lodges in this region and had a fantastic experience.

"Nelson's wine and food is regarded as very good among high-end visitors."

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Marshall said in terms of mass market the port was going to have to work on how it might handle larger vessels. Cruise ships were very manoeuvrable but they had unique characteristics, such as high windage, and there were some technical specifications in Nelson such as bollard strength.

Marshall said cruise lines were exceptionally risk-averse but Port Nelson was doing a fantastic job in establishing its capabilities.

His presentation showed Princess Cruises had indicated some interest in Nelson as an emerging cruise port. They were yet unconvinced the shore products would hold up in terms of capacity, such as the number and quality of coaches but may include Nelson on a world cruise as a test which was how they started with Picton.

Holland America's Seabourn Sojourn's first visit to Nelson received good ratings from passengers and the line was keen to continue using Nelson as a port.

Cruise New Zealand highlighted Nelson as a port that would suit Royal Caribbean Cruises Azamara Club Cruises well, Marshall said. The two-ship fleet was yet to enter the New Zealand market but Cruise New Zealand has met with its director of deployment and destinations who knew New Zealand very well.

"Azamara is a destination-focused line and if they go to New Zealand, he wants to showcase the smaller ports."

- Nelson

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