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COVID-19 curtails cruise ship visits and spending

The Majestic Princess leaving Tauranga. Photo: Daniel Hines/SunLive.

The effect of COVID-19 is being felt in the cruise ship industry after the season was cut short this year.

Stats NZ reports spending was down 3.2 per cent to $547 million in the year ended June 2020.

The $18.1 million fall in annual cruise spending reflected a shortened number of cruise voyages, port calls, and passengers due to enforced border restrictions from March.

“Overseas-flagged cruise ship visits were banned in March 2020 following the emergence of COVID-19 within New Zealand, and outbreaks onboard ships visiting last summer,” says national accounts senior manager Paul Pascoe.

The cruise season is highly seasonal with most visits between October and April each year. The ban came into force at the end of the season.

Last summer, visitor spending by cruise travellers in New Zealand fell to $356.4 million, down 3.5 per cent or $13.1 million, following a 24.5 per cent increase in 2019.

“Reduced visitor spending impacted many regions with shore excursion operators, transport services, visitor attractions, hospitality, and retail sectors all affected,” says Paul.

Vessel spend associated with services, including fuel provided to cruise ships visiting New Zealand totalled $138.7 million, down 3.2 million.

This reflected both reduced fuel demand and the loss of activity associated with port calls for the remainder of the season following the border restrictions. GST from cruise expenditure contributed a further $52 million to total expenditure.

Tauranga and Auckland were the largest recipients of total cruise spending. In the year ended June 2020, spending in Tauranga reached $74.3 million, down 16.8 per cent, with Auckland recording $207.6 million, up 9.5 per cent.

The tragic events of the Whakaari/White Island eruption in December 2019 resulting in 21 deaths were a contributing factor in reduced spending across the wider Bay of Plenty region, says Stats NZ.

Dunedin spend fell $10.4 million to $49.8 million.

At the time of COVID-19 enforced border restrictions, the New Zealand Cruise Association had recorded 169 ship voyages and 901 port calls, including an increasing number of overnight port calls. For the corresponding period of the 2019 season, 146 voyages and 823 port calls had been completed.

A further 41 voyages and 139 port calls were scheduled for the remainder of the 2020 season to June with an estimated 70,000 cruise ship passengers anticipated.

Nearly 283,000 cruise ship passengers visited New Zealand in the year ended June 2020, down 12 per cent or 39,000 passengers from 2019.

“The decrease in international passengers was led by citizens from Australia (down 13,000) and the United States (down 5000), while the United Kingdom recorded an increase of 1,700. The number of New Zealand citizens almost halved from 35,000 to 18,000,” says population insights acting senior manager Tehseen Islam.

Australian citizens’ overall share of unique cruise passengers increased to 51 per cent in 2020, up from 49 per cent in 2019 and 44 per cent in 2018.

United States citizens accounted for 21 per cent while New Zealand and United Kingdom citizens were seven per cent each.

Australia, the United States, and the United Kingdom collectively made up almost 80 per cent of passengers during the 2020 year.

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