Port Stephens cruise operators prepare for whale season

EYE ON HORIZON: Port Stephens cruise operators will begin offering limited whale watching tours during the annual migration season. Picture: Bonita Holmes-Nuu
EYE ON HORIZON: Port Stephens cruise operators will begin offering limited whale watching tours during the annual migration season. Picture: Bonita Holmes-Nuu

It's been a tough introduction to 2020 for Port Stephens businesses, particularly those in the tourism and hospitality sectors.

Following devastating bouts of drought and fires, the Port economy was brought to its knees by the coronavirus pandemic and after two months of forced lockdowns some tourist attractions are tentatively taking their first steps back into business.

The easing of restrictions announced by the state government have been timely for the whale watch cruise operators, with both Moonshadow-TQS and Imagine looking to start up in coming weeks.

Moonshadow's business development manager Mel Turner said that the closures had provided the company valuable time to re-evaluate plans, look at new business models and make modifications to vessels to ensure they are compliant with social distancing restrictions and thorough hygiene.

"We will be commencing whale watching cruises from Wednesday, May 27, with two departures daily at 10am and 1.30pm, permitting 10 passengers at a time. It's a start," Ms Turner said.

"We have had numerous calls asking when we are back up and running and we are ready.

"We have the benefit of large vessels that can comfortably comply with these measures, our crew and team have been inducted with special training to ensure all areas of the vessels are cleaned and we have made some rather large modifications, removing seating to ensure safe distance for those in the cabin.

"There will also be new boarding procedures on the docks to the vessels. People are keen to head out, and we are confident in our processes and diligence to cater for patrons."

Frank Future from Imagine Cruises said they could see the light at the end of the tunnel.

"We have had the summer of fires followed by the autumn of shutdowns [as a result of COVID-19] ... let's hope we can get back on the water for the start of the whale season and July school holidays."

Mr Future said he hoped to be back operating whale watch tours in early June.

Destination Port Stephens CEO Eileen Gilliland said that COVID-19 has had a significant impact on the Port Stephens visitor economy, and the flow-on effect to local businesses had highlighted the importance of tourism to the local economy.

"DPS has developed a three phase COVID-19 recovery strategy taking into account the current restricted travel, the recovery phase and new normality," she said.

"The strategy provides support to industry, marketing programs to capture consumers who are currently dreaming about their next getaway and to drive visitation once travel restrictions are lifted. This staged approach to the recovery campaign allows agility and flexibility as the situation demands.

"Once travel restrictions are lifted DPS will launch a new campaign which will be extended with additional funding from the Port Stephens Council's tourism and business support fund to attract visitors and rebuild our visitor economy."

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