The man behind Royal Caribbean’s decision to start bringing some of the largest cruise ships in the world to Wollongong thinks the region has plenty to offer and be confident about. Wollongong also has enormous potential as a turnaround port.
Gavin Smith is Senior Vice President International for the large global cruise line and said the potential of the Illawarra as a cruise destination and potentially turnaround port is significant. And after his company’s investment proving it can be done the rest of the industry is taking notice.
Speaking at Illawarra Women in Business Mr Smith said a few factors came into play when his attention was first brought to Port Kembla as a place to berth.
Mr Smith said Wollongong had all the things a capable port could bring that were not available in many ports around Australia.
“I think this is an element that will set Port Kembla and indeed Wollongong apart,” he said.
“Because as we bring guests ashore in a safe and secure environment the cooperation of moving our guests off the wharf and into the city, and providing easy access to the attractions of the area, is really going to be what is going to deliver on the day. What we are going to do is inspire and try and get them to seek out those authentic in-depth experiences that are available in this region.”
But what October 30 is also about, is bringing a ship with thousands of guests from diverse backgrounds and many nationalities to a vibrant and progressive down town and beautiful beach front and allowing them to enjoy the many things the city has to offer.
Mr Smith said when Cr Leigh Colacino arrived in his office just over three years ago he brought with him an energy. That convinced him about what Wollongong as a destination was going to become. He said it was clear that journey had already commenced.
“And what I see today and what our passengers are going to see is delivery on the promise. There are a lot of blessed tourism bodies around Australia that take it for granted that the cruise ships will keep coming and people will want to fly there..because there are plenty of things to do. To make a less obvious destination deliver on that promise really takes a lot of energy and commitment”.
Mr Smith said Wollongong’s drive and determination lead by Destination Wollongong was so successful that Radiance of Seas was 93 per cent sold 100 days out. We usually get around 70 nationalities on our cruises. There will be a lot of Aussies, a few Kiwis, a lot of Americans and a few Brits.
“In every cabin throughout the ship we will be broadcasting Destination Wollongong material trying to educate people about what it means to visit the Illawarra, the South Coast and Wollongong. And our lovely crew, 900 of them, all really enjoy coming to a new destination and will all really look forward to their new opportunity. And we are working with the cruise director about revving everybody up on board about the joys of coming ashore,” he said.
Mr Smith also noted there have been many bookings from people who live in the Illawarra for Royal Caribbean’s maiden voyage to Port Kembla and Wollongong
“Such is the enthusiasm for being part of a maiden call by a cruise ship to a port. It really is going to be a nostalgic experience and we are looking forward to creating a very memorable Sunday morning.”
.The cruise industry is worth $4 billion a year to the Australian economy and is growing at 15 per cent. The average passenger coming ashore spends $400 so Radiance’s first visit is expected to inject around $500,000 into the local community.
Mr Smith said Royal Caribbean’s desire was to go beyond that and as a brand it was looking at “how we can view Port Kembla as a potential place to turn our ships around? How we can start and finish cruise holidays here? As the industry expands...all the cruise brands led by ourselves will look for other ports..to start and finish our holidays”.
The economic impact will double if Wollongong becomes a turnaround port because travelers heading out and returning from a cruise will often spend nights in a hotel and dine at restaurants. “And with international guests at a turnaround port you are looking at people spending $600 or $700. So you get over $1 million of investment on the day”.
Port Kembla has the capacity to handle more than one ship at a time so “there are exciting days ahead..as we bring cruise tourism to town. Every element of this port has gone out of its way to provide a business service..which says welcome. Long term I think it is about cruise tourism in Wollongong being on the map. We are a resort oriented international cruise brand so..we market Royal Caribbean around the world”.
Mr Smith is confident about Wollongong’s future because of the experiences organised on the day that are likely to attract plenty of industry attention. “It just keeps saying to an organisation looking to create a business and invest in a local community “that we are being made to feel welcome”.” He expects passengers to be impressed when Wollongong shows what it can do and will be one many lining the foreshore to watch the maiden industry voyage he made happen with the help and encouragement of people such as Cr Leigh Colacino, Mark Sleigh and Dom Figliomeni. The tour program will take in Wollongong, Shellharbour, Kiama, Bulli Tops, Bald Hill, Symbio, Sea Cliff Bridge, HARS, Fitzroy Falls and Illawarra Fly. Mr Smith said the choice was amazing as was the community welcome planned on the beachfront by a city that is set to really showcase itself. “Wollongong is cruise ready. We are now about delivering on that day”.
Radiance will bring 2400 passengers but Royal Caribbean has already decided to bring the larger Voyager of the Seas with 4200 passengers on December 27 and January 18 and the 320 metre long Explorer of the Seas in early 2018 because Port Kembla has a capability many other ports don’t have. Mr Smith expects October 30 will result in ships coming in much greater numbers because “in the cruise industry we follow each other. If one of the cruise brands does something once we find that interesting. If they do it twice it is probably successful. Passengers are going to see a passionate industrial port that has the welcome mat out. And they are going to see..an incredible community event on the foreshore. We are going to be made to feel really welcome”.
Radiance will travel from the south, go past the Five Islands before turning around and passing in front of City Beach shortly after dawn. “On a cruise with such anticipation you will see guests lined up on the balconies and on the top deck and crew on the helipad because of their excitement about being the first”.