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Challenges Presented by the Success of Cruise Tourism

The Australasia cruise tourism sector continues to grow and as cruise ships get larger so does the demand for dedicated port infrastructure for handling them increase. The largest cruise ship currently operating in Australia and New Zealand is Royal Caribbean’s Ovation of the Seas. At 348m in length and carrying 4,900 passengers and 1,500 crew, Ovation presents a berthing and logistical challenge for many ports.

Indeed, New Zealand’s marque port Auckland can not berth Ovation at its cruise ship terminal on Queens Wharf right in the city centre. The current solution is for Ovation to hold position using dynamic positioning in Auckland’s Harbour whilst passengers are tendered ashore using the ship’s lifeboats. This approach, which can only be permitted in winds of less than 25kts, takes up to three hours for passengers to disembark and thereby vastly reduces the time passengers spend ashore and therefore the potential economic impact.

Whilst the Port of Auckland has a long-term plan to extend Captain Cook Wharf (currently a car unloading facility) to become a new cruise terminal this planning is ten to fifteen years into the future. In the interim, it has been proposed to install two mooring dolphins at the end of Queens Wharf along with strengthening the mooring bollards to enable cruise ships the size of Ovation to berth. Berthing of such a ship will increase its economic impact by 6-7 times and also permit turnarounds. Without such infrastructure future visits by ships, the size of Ovation is put at risk as well as the likelihood that these ships will continue on a New Zealand itinerary visiting 5-6 more regional New Zealand ports.

The resource consent application (development application) to construct the dolphins has been the subject of much opposition by elements of the Auckland Economy. A resource consent approval process presided over by three independent commissioners has been established to decide if the development should go ahead. A decision on the outcome of the resource consent application is due in March/April.

AEC has been working with the Australian cruise industry for almost 15 years and this experience led us to be appointed by the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) to prepare and present independent expert economic evidence in support of the resource application. This process required an assessment of the economic case that accompanied the resource consent application, of the Auckland Council’s response to the resource consent application, of the submissions for and against the application and other expert economic peer assessments and opinion. No less than five economists have been involved in this exercise. AEC was invited to present our economic evidence at the commissioner’s hearings in Auckland. It's been a huge process and even if the commission recommends approval it may be subject to legal challenge. In the meantime, cruise itinerary planners continue to monitor the situation and make future port visitation decisions with this uncertainty in mind.

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