The cruise industry is looking to New Zealand and Australia to adapt their safe-travel zone to allow pleasure ships to return to the South Pacific.
As the first quarantine-free planes touch down as part of the Transtasman bubble, cruising associations say that their ships would be well prepared to safely join traffic between the two countries. However, industry bodies on both sides of the sea face some resistance to a cruising restart.
NZCA says they will be putting their case to MBIE and tourism minister Stuart Nash next month, but there is no commitment to a timeframe or what additional steps ships would have to take compared to those required by airlines operating on the quarantine-free route.
"So far there has been no headway on the timeline and the maritime border remains closed till further notice," said Kevin O'Sullivan, chief executive of NZCA.
Joel Katz Managing Director of CLIA Australasia was confident that international cruising could resume along similar lines to the quarantine-free air bridge. However, it would be a slow rebuild.
The cruising association CLIA expected that it would be confined to domestic sailing, with "limited itineraries within local waters while border restrictions remain – catering to New Zealanders only, within New Zealand."
After which, "domestic operations could be expanded to include a Transtasman bubble, linking with similar arrangements in Australia," said Katz.
CLIA members had already adapted to Covid-safe systems for international sailings such as those used in Europe, which Kats said "aligns closely with NZ's 'traffic-light'" travel alerts.
The QFT alert system of "continue, pause, suspend" unveiled by New Zealand government at the beginning of April allows borders to suspend travel for 72 hour snap-lockdowns, or enforce new testing with little notice. These are measures that CLIA says its members would be prepared for, holding ships between local alerts and being prepared to quarantine crew and vessels, and restarting safely.
However, a Mediterranean island hop is very different prospect to the two-day and 1500 nautical miles between Auckland and Sydney. Even if cruise passengers will remain on their own side of the Ditch, having to suspend sailings for 72 hours or add unexpected quarantine periods for crew could have all sorts of logistical knock-on effects for operators.
There has been a very cautious approach to restarting even domestic sailings. The continued extensions of cruise bans and a fiasco surrounding border exemptions for ships have slowed the restart.
In January, Le Lapérouse cancelled its New Zealand season of seven domestic sailings, after failing to obtain visas for crew.
The slow pace of restart may be down to more than complex logistics, says tourism expert Dr David Beirman of the Sydney University of Technology.
"Governments around Australia have been very nervous about getting cruise ships going again, because of the Ruby Princess," Beirman told AAP.
As the vector for Australia's biggest cluster, three passengers tested positive for Covid-19 after departing Auckland on 20 March last year, leading to cases on both sides of the Tasman.
Some domestic sailings have resumed, with ships such as New Zealand's Heritage Expeditions and Australia's Coral Expeditions taking around 100 passengers at a time to explore their respective coastlines. However, the industry has a long way to go before the likes of the 3800-passenger Crown-class ships, such as the Ruby Princess return to either country.
CLIA says the cruise industry has welcomed the news of the Australia New Zealand travel bubble, even if for now it is restricted to air travel.
"We believe now is the time for government agencies in New Zealand to agree on a responsible pathway to cruising's resumption, so that businesses and communities throughout the country can plan for a much-needed tourism revival," said Katz.