Wollongong's port can be the answer for the Australian cruise ship industry

In 2012, Councillor Leigh Colacino pulled me aside and told me he loved ships, big white ships, and he wanted to bring them to Wollongong.

I didn’t know Cr Colacino very well at that time, but suffice to say, he is persistent. Next morning, my phone lights up, “what have you done about my idea?”.

And so commenced our daily ritual of the last six years:  phone calls, emails, meetings until that first big ship Radiance of the Seas made her maiden voyage to Wollongong on October 30, 2016. But this is just the start.

Since that time we have learnt a lot about the cruise industry. Australia has played a significant part in the industries growth with cruise ship patronage increasing by over ten percent every year for the past ten years in Australia.

There is no sign of that growth abating but it’s been well documented that Sydney Harbour no longer has any capacity to continue that growth and a new solution needs to be found or this opportunity will be lost interstate and overseas.

On July 31 this year, the NSW Government released the long awaited Cruise Development plan which included infrastructure solutions to continue cruise industry growth in the Sydney market.

A SAFE HARBOUR: Cruise ship Explorer of the Sea docked at Port Kembla harbour in March this year. Picture: Sylvia Liber.

A SAFE HARBOUR: Cruise ship Explorer of the Sea docked at Port Kembla harbour in March this year. Picture: Sylvia Liber.

There is no doubt that Garden Island was always going to be the number priority for the cruise industry. Who wouldn’t want to park their cruise ship facing the Harbour Bridge, sailing out past the Opera House, a picture postcard moment for any tourist!

The only small problem is the current tenant of Garden Island, the Australian Navy was not ready to give up their space.

Garden Island has now been ruled out as an alternative. The report then threw up two options in La Perouse, Molineaux Point and Yarra Bay.

A business case has never been completed but building a new cruise berth and terminal is going to be an extremely expensive exercise, if the community supports it. They don’t.

Randwick City Council and the member for Maroubra, Michael Daley, have come out strongly rejecting the proposal with Daley calling a community meeting to "fight this disastrous plan".

The community has responded on mass. They have signed surveys, joined social media groups and attended community gatherings fighting against having cruise ships in their area. 

It's hard to believe two communities, so close geographically could be so philosophically different when it comes to the big white ships. 

Importantly, we also have the potential capacity to accept larger ships as they continue to grow and that is a luxury not many ports have.

Ever since Radiance visited in 2016, our community has come out and welcomed our cruise visitors to town. Every visit, up to 150 Ambassadors come and volunteer their time to make sure our visitors have the best possible experience in our city. 

The community lines flagstaff Hill and Christy Drive to take photos of the ships and share them on social media, proud that Wollongong is part of the cruise industry. 

Wollongong is always a fantastic place to visit, but cruise ship days have become special, something the community has become very proud of.  We want more of those moments. 

We are very lucky that Port Kembla is a deep water port, which can accommodate nautically all of the ships currently visiting the Australian market. 

Importantly, we also have the potential capacity to accept larger ships as they continue to grow and that is a luxury not many ports have. 

When the Cruise Industry Action Plan was released, it called for business cases to be made for new cruise infrastructure to be developed in NSW to ensure the industry continues to grow. 

At the Australian Cruise Association conference this week, Brisbane, Melbourne and West Australia all made compelling claims and have commenced developing cruise infrastructure to facilitate turn arounds, competing directly with Sydney. 

The State Government has recently set the aspirational target of tripling the overnight regional visitor economy by 2035, prioritising the role that regions can play in achieving economic growth targets for the State.

Do we really want to lose this business interstate, or worse still overseas when regional NSW can make this happen tomorrow. We have the nautical infrastructure. We have the community support. We have the space to develop whatever the cruise industry needs to make Wollongong a turnaround port.

Let’s get a business case started and ensure this business isn’t lost to NSW. Sometimes, all the hard work and community support pays off and you just happen to be standing in the right place at the right time. Wollongong is now.

Mark Sleigh is the general manager of Destination Wollongong

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