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The Press-News column. Feb 17

Lyttelton must provide for Mega-liners

For the past week I’ve been bobbing out the South Pacific on-board Voyager of the Seas, one of the increasing number of mega-liners being deployed Down Under, but shut out from Canterbury. The ongoing impasse over Lyttelton Port Company’s failure to commit to constructing a designated cruise berth facility is not just a substantial body blow to regional tourism, but it’s seriously undermining the future of cruise growth for the entire South Island. Royal Caribbean’s Voyager is just one of an ever-burgeoning fleet of new generation super-liners, with passenger capacities of up to 5400, that are increasingly being seasonally based in Australasia , between October and April, every year.  Within ten years, the industry projects a third of cruise vessels circuiting New Zealand will be mega-ships.  They are simply too big for tendering at Akaroa  and cannot berth at Lyttelton. The domino effect is that, without a Mainland stop, cruising from Wellington further south to Dunedin or Fiordland becomes unviable, due to the prolonged sea voyage.  New Zealand is an integral part of the world’s fastest growing cruise region.  If cruise was classified as a market of origin, it would already be New Zealand’s fourth largest tourist source, after Australia, China and the USA. And many passengers use cruise as a destination taster, mobilising many to return for longer stays, after having their appetites suitably whetted.  In between marvelling at a gutsy 80 year old Canadian mounting the Voyager’s rock climbing wall, and feeling nauseous at the piggish troughing practises of Aussie buffet diners, I spoke to numerous cruisers desperately disappointed that Canterbury is cut adrift from mega-ships. Lyttelton Port Company ( LPC) estimates it will cost $40 million to construct a cruise berth alongside Gladstone Pier, which they say is cost-prohibitive.  Christchurch and Canterbury Tourism (CCT) questions the steepness of those costings. Either way, it’s simply untenable and intolerable to expect the already maxed-out Christchurch ratepayer to be dumped with the bill and bled for the cash. Cr. Raf Manji, a member of the steering group investigating berth funding, reaffirms that the council-owned port’s lifeblood is basic container cargo.  I believe the funding solution should be triple-pronged. LPC should at least part-fund the facility’s development, given CCT projects LPC would generate over $4 million a year in earnings. The government should also be challenged to make a capital contribution, given cruising’s gushing contribution to the GST coffers. But finally, as Manji concurs, the cruise industry needs to step up and play its part, by way of a nominal passenger levy, for ten years.

Mike’s weekly current affairs opinion column, as first published in The Press. February 17.

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