Cruise ships boost Akaroa

ALAN WOOD
Last updated 12:07 17/06/2013

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Cruise ship passengers visiting Akaroa have helped lift business confidence and visitor interest in the Canterbury region after the earthquakes, a new survey shows.

Akaroa has taken over as the primary cruise ship destination for Canterbury since Lyttelton lost that role as a result of damage caused by the earthquakes of 2010 and 2011.

That change has meant cruise ship visitors have generally had less time to travel from Akaroa into Christchurch and partake in activities run by tourism operators.

However, some smaller ships have been stopping in Lyttelton, with about six visits during the 2012/13 summer season. Cruise ships can also berth in Kaikoura and Timaru.

The Akaroa cruise ship survey was conducted by Lincoln University's Department of Social Science, Parks, Recreation, Tourism and Sport. It involved interviews with 433 cruise ship passengers and a set of business stakeholders.

The average spend of the passengers surveyed was $129.26. Those who stayed in Akaroa reported an average spend of $117.90 per visitor and those who visited locations outside Akaroa reported an average spend of $141.55.

The majority of cruise ship passengers surveyed (64 per cent) were highly satisfied with their port visit, with 59 per cent reporting they were likely to return on a cruise to Akaroa, 67 per cent reporting they were likely to return to Akaroa, and 69 per cent indicating they would return to Christchurch.

Altogether 90 per cent of those surveyed said they would recommend the region to family and friends.

The business stakeholders reported that while cruise ship visitor spending was primarily on smaller, low-value items it did contribute between 5-30 per cent of annual turnover, and was enough to support extra employment and engender considerable business confidence. That confidence had been badly shaken by the global recession and the impacts of the Canterbury earthquakes.

Eighty-six cruise ships carrying 143,925 passengers visited Akaroa during the 2012/13 cruise season.

Last year Lyttelton Port of Christchurch confirmed it was unable to accept bookings for the majority of cruise vessels for the 2013-14 cruise season. In March 2012, the port announced it would defer the development of new cruise berth facilities pending a comprehensive review of port development and enhancement plans after the Canterbury earthquakes of 2010 and 2011. The port is yet to provide an update on its cruise facility plans.

Christchurch & Canterbury Tourism chief executive Tim Hunter said it was clear from the survey results that while having so many cruise ships visiting Akaroa did pose some logistical and community challenges, the economic benefits have been significant.

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''Visitors clearly enjoy the experience and their presence is giving businesses a much-needed boost during a difficult trading time so we're thrilled our efforts to keep cruise ships coming to Canterbury after the loss of the berthing facilities at Lyttelton have paid off,'' Hunter said.

Craig Harris, chairman of Cruise New Zealand, said if Akaroa had not stood up to the challenge of being the main port of call for cruise ships visiting Canterbury, cruise lines would have bypassed the region altogether.

''Passenger satisfaction levels have been exceeded, and calling into Akaroa has allowed cruise lines to support the region as well as using existing operators,'' Harris said.

Paul Bingham, director of Akaroa-based Black Cat Cruises, said the township was heavily reliant on tourism and the cruise ship visits have helped offset the drop-off in visitor numbers that have occurred as a result of the bed shortage in Christchurch.

Wayne Jones, the owner and manager of Bully Hayes restaurant in Akaroa describes the cruise ship visits as a ''God send'' that have helped keep business activity at pre-earthquake levels.

''There has been a noticeable effect on the whole local economy. Our local population have more money in their pockets and are spending it locally,'' Jones said.

- The Press

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