PONANT rejection ‘slap in face’ for industry, slight glimmer of hope remains

PONANT rejection ‘slap in face’ for industry, slight glimmer of hope remains

Travel trade and tourism operators were last night clinging to at least some hope that PONANT’s domestic cruising season around New Zealand will take shape in one form or another.

Yesterday the cruise line was continuing to talk to Immigration NZ after its shock last minute decision to prevent Le Laperouse from coming to New Zealand – despite having the green light from the Ministry of Health. At the time of going to press it was believed a final decision would be made today.

Rachel Williams of Viva Expeditions says her company has been affected by the Immigration NZ move, having secured ‘a significant number of bookings’ for the season.

‘We have had a lot of support from various areas, including politicians, so I do think there is a glimmer
of hope.’

Despite that Williams finds the whole situation ‘unbelievable’ considering the processes PONANT has followed to kick its season off – and considering that the line will be able to cruise in Australia.

‘It’s a slap in the face for the industry.’

In an information release distributed by PONANT, the cruise line says that over $1 million in commission will be lost to the trade if the rejection stands. It points out that tourism suppliers ready to welcome New Zealand passengers around the coast will also miss out on much needed income.

The Department of Immigration has told PONANT, just a few days before the season was about to start, that only 29 of the 90 crew are considered critical workers and will be allowed to enter New Zealand, despite the Department of Health having approved a full complement of crew
to arrive on the ship.

‘The approved Ministry of Health application clearly states the numbers of crew and that the crew would sail into New Zealand with the ship, after having undertaken a 20 day isolation positioning voyage and multiple Covid testings. The crew would all be tested again by health protection officers upon arrival,’ PONANT’s release says.

The New Zealand Cruise Association says it was ‘shocked and bewildered’ by the last minute decision.

‘The Minister of Immigration has tried to paint the decision as the fault of PONANT for not following procedure, but it is not so,’ says NZCA chief executive Kevin O’Sullivan. ‘As soon as the exemption was granted, PONANT provided information to Immigration NZ on visa requirements for the ship’s crew, giving ample time for a response.’

PONANT points out that all crew have been quarantined / isolated for 27 days, have had four negative PCR tests and are fully trained in the company’s Covid-safe protocols, safety and emergency operations.

Sarina Bratton, chairperson Asia Pacific of PONANT, says the company has  been in regular contact with New Zealand’s Department of Immigration over the last few days, updating the department on efforts to find non-safety critical workers.

She says communications from the Immigration Department yesterday will determine what next steps, if any, are available to salvage the ‘planned and approved operation in NZ’ this season.

Tourism Minister ‘echoes’ Minister of Immigration

The Minister of Tourism, Stuart Nash will not be making any attempts to intervene on the PONANT situation, with the Ministry making it clear that the Minister for Immigration, Kris Faafoi, is the Government spokesperson on this issue.

‘The minister echoes the comments of the Minister of Immigration. We have a very strict set of rules around the border which have served us well and kept us safe from the pandemic. They have protected our health and our economy,’ a spokesperson for the Minister of Tourism told TRAVELinc Memo yesterday.

Minister Faafoi’s comments can be found here: https://www.beehive.govt.nz/release/immigration-minister-reinforces-need-follow-strict-entry-requirements

Call for urgent action

The confusion around the PONANT domestic cruise start up has prompted a call for a new inclusive group to work with the government and the wider community to reignite cruising.

‘We need a NZ Cruise Recovery group (call it what you want) to form immediately and that involves direct face to face contact with relevant ministers and government departments by way of urgency,’ says Debbie Summers, the chairman of the New Zealand Cruise. ‘The future of our NZ cruise industry needs to be acknowledged by our NZ Government, understood department wide, supported publicly.’

Summers says a plan needs to be formulated that is inclusive of cruise for when the trans-Tasman bubble opens and further in to the future, inclusive of cruise for when New Zealand is ready to open to the rest of the world.  If we do not formulate this now there is a real possibility as this instance has shown, that cruise will continue to be misunderstood, wrongly maligned and be left hanging out to dry.’

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