If ever there was a time to convince the cruise industry that Port Kembla is a viable alternative as Sydney’s next cruise terminal, it was this week in Wollongong.
The Australian Cruise Association chose the city to host its 25th annual conference, attracting about 120 delegates from throughout Australia and internationally representing cruise lines, travel industry, tourism and ports.
Attendees had the first afternoon free to take in the sights of the region, including a tour of the port, before the official welcome by Wollongong Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbury. Wollongong MP and Planning Minister Paul Scully also addressed the group.
Association Chair and CEO of NSW Ports Authority Phil Holliday said the record attendance at this year’s conference was testament to the fact that Port Kembla was a strong option to become Sydney’s third cruise terminal.
He said previous cruise visits to Port Kembla were transit calls, which allowed ships in for the day and gave passengers the opportunity to spend time on shore, before they sailed off.
However, the bulk of the cruise business operating out of Sydney were turnaround calls, where people start and end their holiday.
“Sydney is getting very full and the cruise market is expanding. What we’re looking for is where there are more facilities where people can start and end their holidays,” he said.
“In looking around at the options, the Government has ruled out Yarra Bay in Port Botany. We’ve looked at Garden Island long and hard and I’m not excited about that. So, where are the options – the really strong one is Port Kembla.
“It offers cruise lines the road and rail links. It offers them proximity to the airport, it offers them proximity to the market, and then the area itself has so much to offer.
“I know there’s lots of chatter about it being a working port, but that’s what ships need. They need that infrastructure. If we can build a terminal alongside that existing maritime infrastructure, you’ve got all of the road and rail links, you’ve got all the proximity, it offers them a solution.
“There’s a real opportunity and I know that the cruise lines are very interested in that opportunity. My understanding is that the local council is very interested in that opportunity, Ministers are now recognising that opportunity and as the Port Authority, we’re keen to push forward and investigate that opportunity.”
Mayor Bradbury said the port proved it was capable of hosting cruise liners when Radiance of the Seas visited Port Kembla in 2016.
“We’re open for business and more specifically, our port is there for this opportunity to welcome more cruises and cruise lines into the city and into this region,” he said.
There was a round of applause when Paul Scully mentioned his Government’s announcement earlier in the week that COVID-19 protocols on cruise ships were to be lifted: “It was sensible to remove those and we’re confident in the ability for the industry to get it right into the future.”
As the local member, he said he supported the Port Kembla option.
“But I do so on the basis that it also makes sense. There is a great capacity in the Port and Port Kembla to do more, to bring in more than just iron ore and cars, there is the opportunity there to expand that into the future.
“It offers that opportunity and we can seriously be one of the options when the NSW Government considers cruise options in the future.”
Australian Cruise Association CEO Jill Abel said the port at Port Kembla and Wollongong were “great destinations” and access to both north and south was a real advantage.
“We need another solution to Sydney – that conversation has been going on for a very long time. I don’t have the answers to it but definitely Port Kembla and Wollongong as destinations are in the mix – it could be built into being a very successful destination,” she said.
“It needs to be purpose-built, it needs to be modern and for the next 20 years. It needs to have all of the things that we’re driving towards sustainability in the future, but it needs to have great access in and out, it needs to be a turnaround port.
“The cruise lines themselves know what works globally. We’ve got a fair idea in Australia what works well too so let’s get all the good bits and build something fantastic.”
The benefits of a cruise terminal at Port Kembla would be significant throughout the region, beyond the obvious tourism impacts.
“There’s all of the tourism, which is really important, but there’s also all of the stuff that goes on around the cruise,” Phil said.
“It is a huge industry, with the suppliers who come and bring the produce to the ship, the crew who come to the ship, the people who work to support the ship.
“It absolutely is right to focus on tourism and the benefits that that brings, but don’t miss out on everything else that goes with it – it’s a huge opportunity.
“The cruise industry in NSW is currently worth around $3 billion and it’s one of the few industries that you can look at now and say there’s a very strong forecast for that. So it’s a journey that people need to be on.”