Cruise liner firm fights recession

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Fewer luxury-liner passengers are making side trips from Milford Sound to Queenstown – but one cruise company bucks the trend. 

During the October-April cruise season, about 1100 passengers will take two-day “overland tours” to Queens­town before rejoining their vessels in Dunedin.
 
But those side-trippers are nearly 50 per cent down on last season’s 2003 passengers. 

That’s the word from Cruize Milford’s Queens­town spokesman Grahame Saunders – and he’s close to the numbers.
 
Ocean liners have no berthing facilities in the Sound and can’t anchor because it’s too deep – so liners offering overland excursions hire Cruize Milford to transfer passengers by launch to waiting coaches. 

“[Overland] numbers have been in decline for some time,” Saunders says, “because [most cruise companies] over-price them.” 

There’s one exception – the giant Holland-America Line.
 
“It’s obviously price-sensitive at the moment,” Saunders believes. “Holland-America Line have decided to sharpen up their [overland] prices somewhat this year so their numbers have actually bounced up quite a lot.”
Numbers have actually more than doubled, Holland-America agent Julian Barton of Auckland says – his total Queenstown visitors will top 400 this season.
 
“We’ve found [overland] numbers this summer have gone through the roof,” he says.
 
Barton’s Pacific Journeys handles Queenstown side-trips for other cruise companies too “but they haven’t had the growth Holland-America has had”. 

He’s been working with Holland-America for 13 years “but this summer’s been the biggest season for them”.
Neither Saunders nor Barton knows just how much cruise passengers pay for the Queenstown add-on – nor how much Holland-America has dropped prices. And while 1000-2000 cruise-ship passengers isn’t a lot in Queenstown’s tourism year, Saunders points out there’s plenty of room to grow cruise-ship side-trips.
 
A total of 54 vessels will visit Milford Sound this season and, while not every one offers overland excursions, many liners carry 1800 passengers so there’s a market potential of up to 100,000 visitors a year. 

Passengers are usually well-heeled too – Barton calls Holland-America a “five-star” cruise company.