The coronavirus pandemic has forced Port Stephens tourism operators to think of new and innovative ways to entice visitations and leading the way in the Bay is Moonshadow-TQC Cruises.
With the loss of the international visitors, Moonshadow, which has been offering both whale and dolphin watch tours for decades from the Nelson Bay marina, has switched its attention to the domestic market with the launch later this month of Cruising Street Food, Sunday Sessions.
"The new concept will replace our traditional twilight cruise and includes authentic street food, live entertainment, a three hour cruise and drinks," said marketing manager Mel Turner.
Traditionally, internationals visitors made up 70 per cent of Moonshadow's whale and dolphin watch business, and to lose that overnight had presented enormous challenges for the team.
"The COVID-19 restrictions had a huge impact and left many of us devastated, but we soon accepted the reality and made the necessary adjustments, including operating on a limited capacity," Turner said.
"We have had to completely reassess our product offerings while continuing to abide by the health regulations. In developing a whole new business plan, we saw a gap in the market for a unique floating beer garden experience."
Sunday Sessions will commence on the afternoon of Sunday, July 26, and continue every fortnight. Live entertainment will feature a couple of Port Stephens regulars, Mick Jones and Karen Soper, and include street-style food. Drinks can be purchased and bookings are essential.
Turner said that there was no denying the pandemic had impacted many Port Stephens operators, but all things considered, including the fact that many operators had to adapt to limited capacities, "our business is going well. In fact, we are doing better than this time last year."
"We are seeing more people on short getaways and the whales have not disappointed, in fact they have been coming through in drove. In addition, there seems to have been more publicity this time around surrounding the whale migration, for which we are very thankful," she said.
"It's also great to see the locals getting on board and exploring their own backyard, along with regular visitors from neighbouring regions including Newcastle, the Hunter and Central Coast."
Turner said it was unfortunate that the popular and unique annual human whale event - traditionally scheduled for the second weekend in July at Fingal Beach and organised by Moonshadow in company with Imagine Cruises - had to be placed in hibernation for 2020.
"Last year we had in excess of 1300 people attend the event, which has been well supported in recent years by the Fingal Bay and wider Port Stephens community. We are determined, however, to be back bigger and better in 2021."
For Sunday Sessions bookings phone 4984 9388.