Sydney's $3 billion cruise industry wants access to the Navy's Garden Island site

Photo: James D. Morgan/Getty Images.

Sydney’s booming cruise industry, which generates around two-thirds of the sector’s national income is pushing for the Turnbull government to open up the Garden Island naval base to cruise ships to meet global demand.

A pre-budget submission from peak body the Tourism & Transport Forum (TFF) has called on the federal departments of defence, tourism and immigration to work together to “jointly explore means of establishing common user terminal facilities at Garden Island for the use of large cruise ships”.

Even before the recent summer season featured the debut of Royal Caribbean’s massive $1.3 billion Ovation of the Seas, the Australian cruising industry claimed it had a 27% jump in economic value last financial year, hitting $4.58 billion in FY15/16.

The overall cruise ship visit days to domestic ports jumped 39% and more than one million people went cruising in Australia last financial year, including 150,000 inbound international tourists.

Australia is now the fourth largest source market in the world and the biggest by market penetration, with 4.5% of all Australians taking a cruise.

Around 63% of the industry’s economic contribution went to NSW, at just under $3 billion. That figure is expected to be beaten this financial year.

TFF CEO Sydney that the Overseas Passenger Terminal at Circular Quay is now at full capacity, and many of the newer ships in the cruising fleet, such as Ovation of the Seas, are too big to pass under the Harbour Bridge and use the White Bay terminal in Balmain and a “cruise crisis” loomed.

“TTF and the cruise industry has been calling for years for the NSW and federal governments to develop a fair sharing arrangement with the Royal Australian Navy to allow cruise ships to access the infrastructure at Garden Island permitting visitors to disembark directly onto the shore,” she said.

When companies such as P&O have multiple cruise liners in the harbour, they moor near Taronga zoo and off Rushcutter’s Bay.

Osmond say nearby Port Botany, the capital’s container harbour, where Sydney airport is based, was not the solution

“The big draw is Sydney Harbour. It is not just international tourists that crave the ‘big picture’ moment of sailing through the heads,” she said.

“This is also about Aussie tourists who want to feel that sense of excitement and pride that comes from sailing in and out of their Harbour City.

With “home port” visits generating around $700 per day per passenger, Osmond said Sydney was in danger of being “boycotted” by the cruise companies.

“Our largest cruise gateway, Sydney, is at peak capacity and with the world’s top cruise companies now diverting their premier liners, the time for action to recover lost cruise business, prevent further withdrawals and ensure that growth can occur, is now.

“If Sydney is not available as a destination for large cruise liners, the whole country will miss out. We are now on the verge of a cruise crisis.”

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