OPINION: Cruise facilities critical for tourism growth

MUCH has been said about the recent announcement by the NSW state government to lease the Newcastle Port to generate revenue for a range of projects, including the reinvigoration of the Newcastle CBD.

The Newcastle Tourism Industry Group welcomes this reinvigoration of the CBD.

The focus our region is beginning to receive and the role we can play in driving the visitor economy in the Hunter for NSW is gaining momentum.

But in order to drive the visitor economy in our region, we need to ensure various infrastructure needs are met.

In recent years, Newcastle has established itself as a destination of choice by domestic and international cruise ships, including some of the world's largest ocean liners.

Newcastle Port Corporation, through its Cruise Hunter brand, has successfully put Newcastle and the Hunter Region on the Australian cruise map by providing a berth for docking cruise ships and collaborating with the local businesses, including Newcastle Tourism Industry Group members, to understand how to appeal to and benefit from cruise ship visits.

In the 10 years of Cruise Hunter's existence, over 60 ships have docked in Newcastle, generating over 105,000 visits to our city.

In recent years, we are averaging over 10 ship visits annually, resulting in more than 22,000 people visiting and spending time in Newcastle and beyond.

And this figure is growing.

Clearly, cruise shipping is vital to city revitalisation. Some national studies show that if 3000 visitors alight from a cruise ship, it can inject up to $500,000 per visit into the local visitor economy.

This stimulus is generated through attractions and tour operators; transport providers; retail, cafe and restaurants trade; port service providers; airport traffic; and the accommodation sector.

Let's not forget the value of highlighting and promoting Newcastle to a new travelling market that has traditionally bypassed our city.

Our group calls on our local member Tim Owen and the NSW state government to ensure the cruise industry of Newcastle Port is being given the due respect it deserves during the scoping process now under way.

Rights for the Newcastle Port lease must include a cruise market component.

The foundations have been laid for a burgeoning local cruise-shipping industry.

The Newcastle Tourism Industry Group and its members are seeking assurances from the NSW government that the long-term lease of the port will demand, and allow, the opportunity for Newcastle to realise its cruise-shipping industry possibilities.

Newcastle is a world-leading working harbour and we understand the focus will be on non-cruise-related industry.

However, 99 years is a long time and we simply cannot afford to ignore a large economic driver such as the tourism sector.

We understand that whoever is interested in securing the port lease will do so on an economic basis, but it is crucial that parameters are in place to ensure the harbour continues to service the Newcastle and Hunter visitor economy so that revenue does not simply sail past our shores.

A purpose-built cruise terminal is critical because it would provide a means for Newcastle to continue to capitalise on the tourism dollar and maintain a sought-after and valuable destination asset, a cruise ship harbour.

Cruise industry infrastructure cannot be an afterthought once the lease is issued.

If the NSW state government wants to double overnight expenditure, as per the visitor economy taskforce report, Newcastle and the Hunter are a crucial means to do it.

They must ensure Newcastle's cruise industry is not just maintained but grown by whoever holds the rights to the port.

The Newcastle Port is the lifeblood for many in tourism, and our group needs assurances it will remain so for many years to come.

Ivan Spyrdz is the chair of the Newcastle Tourism Industry Group

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