Cruise ships help add ballast to local economies

WHEN Queen Mary 2 left Melbourne's port yesterday evening, the largest cruise ship to have visited Victoria took with her 18 container loads of local produce to feed her 2500 passengers and 1200 crew.

Among the cargo loaded on to the 151,000-tonne ship was 28 tonnes of local wine, 52 tonnes of meat, 27 tonnes of vegetables, nine tonnes of seafood and two tonnes of dairy products, mostly sourced from local suppliers. Cruise ship tourism is increasingly big business for Victoria's economy, and its contribution is tipped to increase almost fourfold this decade, from $60 million last year to $233 million by 2019-20, according to a Deloitte Access Economics report commissioned by Carnival Cruise Lines, the Queen Mary 2's owner.

The claimed benefits to the economy include an estimate that passengers and crew spend an average of $1 million on shopping during stopovers in cities such as Melbourne.

But the value to Victoria's economy pales in comparison to Queen Mary 2's next destination, Sydney. Cruise ship berths at Sydney's harbour contributed $371 million to New South Wales' economy last year, according to the report, and that sum is tipped to rise to $1.1 billion by 2019-20.

Queensland's cruise industry also leaves Victoria's behind, having added $166 million to the state's economy last year, which is forecast to rise to $341 million by 2019-20.

David Jones, a spokesman for Carnival, said Victoria benefited less from cruise ship tourism than NSW and Queensland because fewer ships used Melbourne as their home port.

State Tourism Minister Louise Asher said Melbourne had recently lured seven new ships to the Port of Melbourne, bringing the total to 15. "The value of home-port visits is significantly higher than the estimated $1 million each visiting cruise ship contributes to Melbourne's economy," she said.

But the Deloitte report also said the high cost of berthing in Australian ports, among the most expensive in the world, could drive some cruise ships to cheaper harbours in the region.

"High and increasing costs may become a potential barrier to the medium-term growth of the cruise industry in Australia," the report said. "Given that higher costs are passed on to passengers as higher prices, to maintain demand at lower prices, operators are likely to allocate ships to a global location where costs are lower, for example the South Pacific or Asia."