For 17 days last year, up to 2000 passengers got off their luxury liner and stepped onto a wharf with a tin shed and little in the way of basic services.
Welcome to New Zealand and Auckland’s Queen’s Wharf – party central for the Rugby World Cup if you are talking to Prime Minister John Key, or a poor excuse for a second cruise ship terminal for the country’s largest and most important cruise port if you are talking to cruise industry lobbyist Craig Harris.
“It’s one of our major concerns at the moment. Would we treat people at an airport like we treat cruise passengers? We are light years apart.”
Harris who manages cruise ship port calls through his business McKay shipping and is chief executive of cruise marketing group Cruise New Zealand, says the cruise business has grown phenomenally but supporting infrastructure is struggling to keep up.
In the 1996/97 cruise season fewer than 20,000 people visited New Zealand by cruise ship. By 2008/09 it had grow to a record 116,000.
This season the numbers are expected to be down to 105,000 as the result of one liner delaying its cruises until next year as a result of the economic recession.
But Harris says next season – which starts in October this year – will be another record breaker with cruise visitors expected to top 130,000 people.
Harris says the number of cruise passengers is growing worldwide. In New Zealand, the major growth has been driven by more Australians wanting to travel by cruise ships.
The recession had caused a travel division with American and European travellers pulling out of cruises and Aussies increasing in numbers.
Australian cruise passengers have grown from 26,000 to 42,000 in the last year alone.
It’s a growth level which cruise company Carnival, which brings 60 per cent of the cruise traffic to New Zealand, is well aware of.
“We are getting more and more ships coming from Australia and visiting New Zealand,” says Carnival public relations manager Anthony Fisk.
Carnival’s ships, which include the P&O, Cunard and Princess Cruise liners, now visit eight ports around New Zealand during the six-month season of October to March.
Last season its ships went to 105 ports and this year it has grown to 141.
Passenger numbers will also grow from 52,000 people this season to 80,000 next season, Fisk predicts.
In Auckland alone, it will double its port calls from 18 to 40 and since December last year, it has had a cruise liner based out of Auckland – its first P&O cruiser to be based outside of Australia.
“We are expanding at a phenomenal rate,” Fisk says, “Australian cruise passengers just love visiting New Zealand.”
The American company started with two ships in its Australian business and is now up to six, with a seventh liner to be added by the end of this year.
Rather than hindering business, Fisk says the recession has helped the cruise industry continue to grow.
“People like the inclusive nature of it, as well as safety and the ability to wake up in a new destination each day.”
And now things are picking up again Fisk does not see that changing. “We see cruising will keep on growing.”
But with the growth has also come challenges to keep up.
“The challenge for New Zealand is to ensure there is enough infrastructure put in place and to give an experience that will make people want to return.”
Fisk said there was a marked difference in the facilities available for cruise ships throughout the country. “Some are just basic wooden wharfs while others are designed for cargo drop-offs, not passengers.”
But there had been some improvements.
Fisk said local councils were beginning to put in place temporary measures to help cope with tourists needing to get in and out of towns more easily while communities were rallying together to open shops on a Sunday and provide tour services.