New Zealand’s Cruise Industry Nears Full Recover Post-Pandemic

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After years of pandemic-induced disruptions, New Zealand’s cruise market is making a robust comeback, with passenger rates soaring to over 80% of the figures seen before the global health crisis.

The Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) revealed that approximately 86,300 New Zealanders embarked on ocean cruises in 2023, marking the first full year of resumed cruise operations within the region.

Although these numbers still trail behind the 106,300 passengers recorded in 2019, they align with cruise recovery trends observed globally.

Joel Katz, the CLIA managing director in Australasia, said of the progress, “New Zealand was among the last countries to reopen to cruising, but New Zealanders began heading back to sea in significant numbers once ships returned. By the final quarter of 2023, the number of New Zealanders cruising had pushed ahead of the same quarter of 2019, suggesting demand is on track for recovery.”

The positive trajectory is reflected in the preference for itineraries close to home, with 77% of Kiwis choosing to cruise in Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific Islands in 2023.

New Zealand's Fjordlands National Park is a popular cruising destination
New Zealand’s Fjordlands National Park is a popular cruising destination (Photo Credit: wenjing wang1994)

New Zealand’s busiest passenger port, Wellington, in the capital city, received around 200,000 passengers from more than 100 ships between October and April, the summer season.

Additional ports experienced a bumper season, including Lyttleton (Christchurch) hitting a summer record with more than 1,000 port visits, Napier Port welcoming 138,000 passengers from 89 cruise ships, and Auckland experiencing a 50% increase in cruise visits with 250,000 passengers arriving aboard more than 50 ships. 

Even smaller Stewart Island/Rakiura and Bluff in Southland experienced town records with more than 7,500 and 6,000 passengers calling, respectively.

CLIA’s 2023 Source Market Report sheds light on various evolving trends within New Zealand’s cruise industry. Notably, the average age of cruise passengers has decreased, from 52.4 years in 2019 to 49.3 years in 2023, indicating a growing appeal among younger demographics.

This shift is underscored by the fact that nearly one-third of cruisers (30%) were under the age of 40 last year.

The average cruise duration also slightly decreased, with the typical journey lasting 9.2 days compared to 9.6 days in 2019. This change could likely be due to busy work and family lifestyles of younger travelers.

When New Zealanders cruise, the Pacific region is the most favored destination, with 39.1% choosing this area, which accounted for 25.1% of all trips.

Wellington, New Zealand
Wellington, New Zealand (Photo Credit: Stefan Mokrzecki / Shutterstock)

Other popular destinations included Australia, the Western Mediterranean, Alaska, Asia, and the Caribbean. In terms of local cruising, the number of New Zealanders cruising their own country remained stable at 22,000, mirroring the 2019 figures.

“New Zealand is a highly sought-after cruise destination and Kiwis have shown a passion for cruising their own backyard,” said Katz. “But it is important that the right settings are in place to ensure New Zealand is internationally competitive.

Read Also: Princess Cruises Ship Marks Maiden Visit to New Zealand

Globally, the cruise industry reached a new pinnacle in 2023 with a record 31.7 million people taking to the seas, surpassing the previous high of 29.7 million in 2019. Despite this international success, Katz highlighted the need for continued cooperation and strategic planning with New Zealand to sustain this record and enhance future cruise capability.

Katz said, “Collaboration among government, ports, and destinations is vital, along with balanced regulation and reasonable costs to fostering a thriving cruise economy in New Zealand.”

With the summer season over, New Zealand will see only a few voyages sailing during the next several months, each aboard P&O Cruises’ Pacific Explorer. The summer season will resume with Princess Cruises’ Diamond Princess arriving in Auckland on October 10.

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