When cruising was suspended in March last year, respected Airlie Beach tour operator Ocean Rafting was confronted by a raft of cruise ship cancellations and the loss of thousands of forward passenger bookings.
For Ocean Rafting owners Jan and Peter Claxton, cruise ships accounted for more than 15 per cent of their bookings for tours on their rigid inflatable boats and were the difference between a good year and a very good one.
Now the couple has joined Carnival Australia, the country’s largest cruise organisation, and the cruise industry in calling for state and federal governments to agree to a restart plan providing a pathway for the resumption of cruising beginning with domestic itineraries.
Like many tour operators in the Whitsundays and elsewhere in Australia, their business has been pummelled by the closure of international borders, interstate lockdowns and the continuing ban on cruising.
“One in three people in Airlie Beach works in tourism and the loss of cruise ship visits has had a massive impact for us,” Jan said.
“We would normally devote two of our boats to cruise passengers whenever a ship came to Airlie Beach. In January last year, prior to the pandemic, we had 16 ships in just one month but by April there were 28 cancellations. It was devastating.
“We actually built a boat purely for the cruise ship business, which was growing to such an extent that we fully expected it to soon account for up to 20 per cent of our business.
“For us, cruising made the difference between a good year and a very good one but now we are in survival mode.
Like cruising, we need a plan for recovery. If we knew relief would come within six months we would know what we have to do to hang on. But we need a plan and that has not been forthcoming.”
Sture Myrmell, President of Carnival Australia and P&O Cruises Australia, said Ocean Rafting’s experience is being replicated across Australia for hundreds of businesses that are part of the value chain of cruising.
“Businesses both small and large benefit from economic activity generated by cruising but the flow has now been cut off for more than a year with no indication of when the tap might be turned on again,” Mr Myrmell said.
“This loss of business opportunity for so many underlines why it is so important for federal and state governments to engage and agree on a pathway for the resumption of domestic cruising, knowing that it will be months before any cruise ship can return to Australia.
“Cruising would normally contribute more than $5 billion annually to national, state and regional economies and, after more than a year of the cruise suspension, more than $6 billion in economic activity has been lost.
“With its dependence on tourism, Airlie Beach businesses such as Ocean Rafting are only too aware of the impact of this lost economic activity.”