Record Number of Cruise Ships Visit Tasmania, but Backpackers Worth more to the State

Tasmania has had another record-breaking cruise ship season and business and tourism operators welcomed thousands of extra customers.

But according to the Industry Council, cruise ship passengers were less valuable to the state than backpackers and it is now calling for controls on mass tourism.

The last cruise ship of the season arrived in Hobart early Friday morning.

The Noordam is the 127th cruise ship number to visit Tasmania over the past five months, bringing a total of 350,000 passengers to the state.

TasPort’s Commercial Manager, Kristy Little, said it had been very busy for three years.

“The number of cruise ships calling around Tasmania has increased by 124 per cent,” Ms Little said

“Predominantly this growth has been seen in Hobart, but also up in Burnie.”

The Port Arthur Historic Site also experienced substantial growth.

“Cruise ship calls at the site in the 2013/14 season were eight,” she said.

“This season that’s increased to 25 … that’s largely around infrastructure upgrades that they have completed to their jetty.”

Business boost

Shop owner Kellie Rathbone said she had noticed the increase in cruise ship passengers.

“We definitely have this season the last three years or so we’ve definitely noticed a big increase in the foot traffic that we’re getting around in Salamanca,” she said.

She said many people return to the state after making an initial visit on a cruise ship.

“The cruise ship is a taster. Then they return either via plane or they’re catching the boat over,” she said.

“Then spending a longer time here because Tasmania has so much to offer.”

The Tourism Industry Council said cruise ship passengers now account for about 20 per cent of the state’s tourists.

Council CEO Luke Martin said as cruise ship passengers don’t pay for accommodation and often eat on board. They make up just 2 per cent of Tasmania’s visitor spend — about $50 million.

“The cruise ships look great, they’re huge and talk about big numbers and big impact,” he said.

“There are other markets of visitation to the state like the backpacker sector that’s worth far more to the island.”

With similar cruise ship numbers expected next season, Luke Martin said it was time to consider the value of mass tourism.

“We know China is exploding as a cruise shipping destination where there are bigger ships being produced,” he said.

He’s concerned about the impact of cruise ship visits to Wineglass Bay on the east coast.

Blue skies over Wineglass Bay in Freycinet National Park on Tasmania's east coast,

Last season there were eight visits to the Bay and next season there will be two.

“It’s a relatively small number that are going there this year,” Mr Martin said.

“But we’ve seen places like Port Arthur in the past and Burnie … they start off small and they keep rising.”

Kristy Little from Tasports said the organisation was working to ensure the industry was sustainable.

“We work really closely with Tourism Tasmania, the cruise-lines, regional councils and tourism organisations to ensure that we’re providing well-coordinated visitor services,” she said.

“But also to ensure that the growth of the cruise industry is carried out in a sustainable manner around the state.”

Exhaust worries

The extra cruise ship traffic has also raised concerns about emissions.

Greens Hobart City Council Alderman, Helen Burnett, said “the bunker fuel which is being used is of very low grade and my concern is that’s having a detrimental affect on the air quality”.

She is calling for the state to follow Sydney’s lead and limit fuel oil sulphur content to zero point 1 per cent.

“I fail to comprehend why it is so difficult, why can’t the State Government see how important this is to protect our brand, to protect the health and wellbeing of people working, living and studying in this area?” she said.

But the director of the Environment Protection Authority, Wes Ford, said real-time monitoring of air quality since September had so far found it was not an issue.

“From the detections we’ve got we haven’t had any exceedances of the national daily or hourly limits at this stage,” he said.

He said the monitoring device was situated on the other side of the harbour to where the ships berth to ensure it captures any emissions.

“The emissions go into the air and then settle down. What people see is the smoke part, but the sulphur dioxide itself disperses away from the ship and then settles to ground level,” he said.

A spokesman for the State Government said that “international regulations are proposed to change in 2020 that will ensure all ships and vessels operating anywhere in the world will be required to use fuel containing a maximum of 0.50 per cent sulphur.”

“Enforcing this before the international regulations come into effect would result in cruise ships bypassing Tasmania, unnecessarily threatening the state’s booming cruise ship season.”

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