NCLH want Sydney’s cruise crisis put back on the government agenda

Executives Harry Sommer and Steve Odell talk with LATTE

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Harry Sommer and Steve Odell at the NCLH Sydney HQ
Harry Sommer and Steve Odell at the NCLH Sydney HQ

Senior officials at Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings are hopeful the NSW Government will urgently address the cruise infrastructure crisis in Sydney, insisting the topic must be put back on the agenda.

In Sydney yesterday at NCLH’s local headquarters, President of International for Regent Sevens Seas Cruises, Oceania Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Lines, Harry Sommer, was blunt in saying the Task Force established to analyse the capital city’s cruise port shortage and recommend a viable solution had achieved “zero”.

“Nothing came of it,” Sommer told LATTE.

The Miami-based executive has met with Sydney Ports on a “regular basis” when in town, but says he has not seen “any credible progress … I’m not sure if meeting with them is meaningful.”

“They’re great guys, but it’s not within their control to do anything about the problem. This problem needs to be solved by the government. And if the local or national, or a combination of the two of them, sees fit to make this a priority, it will get done. But they have not yet seen fit to make it a priority. Maybe some day they will,” he said.

NCLH’s Senior Vice President and Managing Director Asia Pacific, Steve Odell, was more favourable towards the Task Force, saying the suggested solution of a third cruise terminal at Port Botany was “still hanging in there”; that is despite backlash from the local community and Indigenous issues. The cruise industry’s preferred option at Garden Island in Sydney Harbour has already been knocked back by the Navy and Federal Government under former Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull.

The issue is “just being kicked around like a football,” Odell said. “When we have new State and Federal Governments it needs to be on the priority list for future investment.”

Sommer said the situation in Sydney was a massive juxtaposition compared to the cruise metropolis of Miami, NCLH’s home, where multiple terminals are currently under construction. And that’s in addition to existing cruise infrastructure.

“Miami is going to have the ability to handle something like 10 ships, 12 ships simultaneously, and they will all be full. It’s a case of ‘if you build it, they will come‘.

“A typical weekend will host around 20 ships between Saturday and Sunday every week. Sydney could have that,” Sommer said.

“I’m not saying that Sydney could get 20 ships overnight, but if they built the infrastructure, certainly you could double or triple the [number of] ships that were here.

“Naturally, there are other issues that are more important than port infrastructure and it will never be the top priority of your government, and nor should it be. But in a world where the government changes out every 12 months here – or more, in some cases – it’s going to be hard to make traction.

“I think you need a bit more stability in government for what I suspect is considered a secondary issue for the government. It’s not a secondary issue for me, but I respect that it is for your government.

“The economy is always going to be at the forefront, but I think the government needs to realise, especially with a cruise line like us, it’s not about taking Australians and having them vacation outside the country. For NCLH it’s about bringing non-Australians to the country, which we think is a tremendous benefit for the economy, from everything from local carriers like Qantas to hotels, shopping [and] restaurants. And they are good customers. These aren’t poor people,” he said.

But for now, Sydney’s lack of infrastructure has prevented additional deployments, Sommer confirmed, namely from within the Norwegian Cruise Line fleet.

“What we’ve decided to do is base another ship in the region. Had there been space in Sydney, [it] probably would have come here, but there’s not, so we are going to base the ship in Singapore and Hong Kong.”

“It’s a loss for the local market. There’s lots of places we can go to, and we’d love to see more ships here, but that’s outside of my control,” he added.

“But maybe our grandchildren will enjoy it some day,” Sommer quipped.

Odell concluded that with an election around the corner, he believes the cruise crisis in Sydney has to be a “top priority for whoever is in the Transport and Tourism portfolio, to get this back on the agenda as quickly as possible because it’s been kicked around”.

“It was actually kicked around in a much more high profile way over the past two years, because the people there had a positivity towards it. And I think they have to get that back on the agenda,” Odell said.

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