Q&A with New Zealand Cruise Association Chair, Debbie Summers
The devastating cancellation of the New Zealand summer cruising season, for the Ponant-chartered Le Leperouse luxury small ship, has dealt a morale-crushing blow to the New Zealand cruise industry and the wider travel and tourism sector. There is industry-wide dismay at the government’s officious heavy-handedness which brought about the abrupt axing of this planned domestic circuit of ten 7-day expeditionary cruises aboard Le Leperouse for Kiwis, in New Zealand waters. Where to from here for the dream of domestic cruising and the wider restart of cruising in our waters? Mike Yardley raised a range of questions with industry leader, Debbie Summers, who is Chair of the New Zealand Cruise Association.
Q- Is the industry concerned that if a Tasman cruise bubble is to take shape as the first stage of the rebound, that the NZ Govt may adopt a similar hard line on visa approvals for the full complement of crew and staff, servicing and working on these ships planning port calls around NZ?
A-Yes of course this is an enormous concern and all cruise lines many of whom have been loyal to NZ for decades are of course saying this simply is not achievable. In the past work visas were not required for crew if the ship was in New Zealand waters for 28 days. When we return to more normal times this policy should continue.
If we are to encourage more New Zealanders into our industry then Tourism needs to be in our school’s curriculum for starters. Why have tourism and hospitality funding within our tertiary education centres been reduced by 40% for the next two years? How can we expect to have the quantities of suitably qualified kiwis under this current disregard for the industry?
Q- Does the govt appreciate that most NZ based contracted work on the cruise ships pertains to guest lecturers/ entertainers and expeditionary guides, in addition to the shore excursion spin-offs for local businesses?
A-No, they have not demonstrated so. They have displayed a lack of deep understanding regarding the negative impact this will have on many Kiwi jobs throughout NZ as we struggle to handle the borders being shut. Simply repeating their mantra of jobs for Kiwis instead of working this through to a tangible solution is deeply disappointing. They have done this in other industries that rely on foreign labour. For example within our fruit picking industry; finally relenting and allowing 2000 badly needed labourers in only just recently.
Q- Is it simply unrealistic to apportion a set amount of crew and staff positions to local workers on board the ship, ahead of a sequence of port calls to NZ?
A-It is not unrealistic to advertise for Kiwi positions and this has indeed been done many times in the past, we simply do not have the pool of Kiwis qualified and wanting this kind of work that could fill these positions on our visiting ships 100% and combine that with the short notice Ponant were given, it was indeed an impossible task to be set even for one of the smallest of expedition cruise vessels.
Q- What work needs to be done on the part of the industry and govt. to rebuild trust and confidence?
A-Enormous strides need to be taken in this respect, it is daunting if you realise what must be done for our recovery, certainly we have proven that we can cruise safely in a COVID world, looking even just closer to home in Taiwan, Singapore and some parts of Australia. We needed to begin working on our advantage that NZ has by beating COVID so quickly and because we can cruise safely but we must do this alongside Government support. The sabotaging of Ponant and the planned positive, safe restart has enormous negative outcomes. The click-bait media headlines have again needlessly set back our safe return and damaged our social licence to operate. It’s actually a damned crime to the travel industry which acted in good faith throughout.
Q- Will the NZ Cruise Association be reaching out to the govt to try and strike a better understanding?
A-Yes again and again we will continue to try. Brick and wall are two words that come to mind. We hope to finally be listened to and understood, not just head patted and we hope for collaboration and an absolute resolute will from the government to support the NZ tourism economy and the many local jobs depending on it. We cannot do it without them, as the needless bureaucracy recently has shown and it must come from deep within the Beehive and then the support must be shown most publicly.
Q- Has the Le Laperouse debacle significantly dented morale in the cruise industry, as to NZ’s willingness and flexibility to restimulate the sector?
A-It simply cannot be underestimated how brand damaging for NZ this has been. To the world we look like a bunch of fools that are anti tourism for the sake of it. Our government led us here, we need them to lead us out of this and they must publicly support our sector which is on its knees. This has been a cruel and a potentially livelihood ending blow to many thousands of kiwis.
Travel and tourism is a hard business it demands blood sweat and tears. One in 7 people in NZ work within this industry and we do it because we love it. We have helped build an incredible international NZ brand over decades of dedication and in less than two weeks bureaucrats have seriously dented our destination friendly global image. Alongside this the trust in New Zealand as a future destination will have been seriously rocked. More-over it is proved world over that Travel & Tourism is the hardest hit industry from COVID.
The NZ tourism industry has still not been supported enough and many within will not make it in the end without more tangible support. The borders being shut is not through our doing. We accept they can only be opened when it is safe to do so, but in the case of the Ponant ship the cruise industry had offered a safe and viable process to help the New Zealand tourism economy.