Tourist firms rue cruise-ship rules

NICOLE MATHEWSON
Last updated 07:14 11/10/2012

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Strict new rules for tour operators will hurt Akaroa businesses and put visitors at risk, guides say.

The Christchurch City Council planned to change the way operators worked when cruise ships visited the Banks Peninsula town after complaints last season, council transport and greenspace manager Alan Beuzenberg said.

"What we had was operators doing whatever they liked [last year]. It was unstructured and we want it to be fair," he said.

The new process would not be in place before the first cruise ship arrived on Saturday, but operators were asked to follow guidelines in the meantime.

They are:

- Making the main wharf off-limits to operators.

- Putting operators in a specific, shared space and managing them on a first-in, first-served basis.

- Limiting signage to specific dimensions.

- Allowing operators on site from 7.30am to 5pm only, and limiting pickup and drop-off times.

- The service on offer must be available only on the day of the visit.

- Operators cannot sell services or products for use at other ports.

Under the new rules, Just Book It Shore Excursions NZ would be unable to take bookings for its tours outside Akaroa.

Managing director Andrew Colville said that could threaten jobs. "My concern about what the council is doing is the fact they're doing it at the 11th hour.

"It appears they're not interested in our views, otherwise they would have consulted between April, when the last ship arrived last season, and now. I guess there's some agenda there."

Coach tour operator Robin McCarthy, of the Christchurch Tours group, said independent operators were not consulted about the proposal.

"Now the council has imposed this plan upon us only days before the first cruise ship with draconian terms and conditions and placed themselves as judge and jury as to who will be able to operate at Akaroa," he said.

Many passengers booked tours from on the ship, but a segment of the market preferred to book with cheaper independent operators, and he was concerned that opportunity would be lost.

"I'm hoping there's going to be a positive outcome and I hope in future operators will be consulted. It's just something else we don't need in these difficult times," he said.

Pohatu Penguin Tours director Shireen Helps said the council had cited health and safety concerns as the reason for the changes, but the proposal could make things "so much worse".

"We were all lining the wharf last year," she said. "We were a barrier stopping cruise ship passengers from even getting close to the edge."

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The new rules put operators among big buses, and the area would become "so much more congested", she said.

Alan Beuzenberg acknowledged operators had been given a "reasonably short and sharp" period for feedback.

"We have got a lot on our plate in terms of all of the things we're trying to deal with as a city," he said.

Operators had until Monday to provide feedback on the new approach, and it was expected to be made final by next month.

- The Press

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