Picton braced for record cruise season


A busy summer in Picton is set to be boosted by record cruise ship numbers this season, with businesses and tour operators anticipating bumper trade.

The country’s cruise ship sector is expecting a record season, with passenger numbers forecast to increase by 33 per cent.

Destination Marlborough general manager Tracy Johnston said the region would not be left out, with a packed schedule of cruise ships expected to berth in Picton between early October and May.

“Marlborough is on track with national growth so we are expecting a third more passengers and crew this season. It isn’t about more ships, but bigger ones coming into port,” she said.

Last season, more than 76,000 passengers and crew stopped in Picton, while the coming season was expected to see more than 98,000 people on 12 different ships.

Destination Marlborough and Port Marlborough held a pre-season briefing two weeks ago for businesses affected by cruise ships so they could prepare, Johnston said.

“It’s a matter of putting structures in place so that we can properly manage the influx and consistently deliver a quality experience for the visitors. Marlborough needs to put a collective best foot forward.”

Marlborough Sounds Shuttles owner Dave Porter agreed that a collaborative approach was needed to make the most of the increase in visitors. His business was waiting to hear about new regulations on access to Port Marlborough property in order to collect and drop off cruise ship passengers, but was optimistic for a good season.

“We have already had a lot of enquiries from [travel] agents for the boats about wine tours, scenic tours and trips to Omaka [Aviation Heritage Centre]. The bookings are also bigger, in the past they were for three or four or up to 10 people, now they are for groups of 30.”

Porter was surprised to see ships scheduled to arrive as late as May and already had bookings for April. However, he was still focused on other markets as cruise ship passengers made up 10 to 15 per cent of his summer business.

Le Cafe owner Peter Schoni said they were excited for what they expected to be a booming season, which might see them hire extra staff.

“It’s going to be a big summer. Back 10 years ago the cruise ships didn’t change anything for us because the passengers were taken back to the ship for lunch, but now there is a lot more of them deciding what they want to do.”

Cafe Cortado duty manager and head barista Wilson Robledo said they too were excited for the summer. They were waiting until November before deciding if more staff were needed, but were also expecting strong trade in the summer.

Winter had been good despite typically low numbers of people, he said.

“The past three or four winters have probably been the best yet, even though it looks quiet in Picton.”

Johnston said a survey conducted by Destination Marlborough showed the past summer and autumn had been good. More than 80 per cent of respondents said the period was the same or better, while some said it was at least 10 per cent better, Johnson said.

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