Travel is kicking off again in a matter of days, but an easy loophole is seeing cruise-loving Australians take their business elsewhere.

International borders are coming down in just a few days, with the travel ban and the exemption requirement to go overseas finally being ditched on November 1.

Aussies desperate to go on holidays are already selling out flights to Europe, the US and Asia.

But despite flights being back on track, cruise companies are still unable to restart their Australian tours.

However, there will be nothing stopping Aussies flying to places like Miami, Florida and Nadi, Fiji, and enjoying a cruise overseas before flying home – making the Australian cruise ruling all the more farcical.

The cruise industry was brought to a standstill early last year when the coronavirus pandemic hit Australia.

One of Australia’s first Covid outbreaks came from a cruise ship, when the Ruby Princess docked in Sydney last March.

More than 900 infections and at least 28 deaths were eventually linked to the outbreak.

The outbreak triggered a biosecurity ban on all foreign flagged vessels, with the cruise ban in place until December 17.

And despite hints from NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet, who has acknowledged the irony of Aussies being able to cruise overseas but not at home, the industry will still take months to restart.

Speaking to news.com.au, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) managing director Australasia Joel Katz blasted the “ridiculous” and “disappointing” double standard.

“We need the federal and state governments to come to the party,” Mr Katz said.

“Just in the last couple of days, we’ve had a number of travel agents reach out to us with comments from a number of avid cruise passengers, asking us what the rules are about cruising overseas.

“They’re planning to fly overseas to cruise because they can’t cruise at home and that’s really disappointing for the thousands of Aussies who rely on the cruise industry locally for their livelihoods.”

Mr Katz said the cruise industry had been asking the Government “for a long time” to forge a way forward together.

Despite some promising words from senior federal ministers and a number of premiers, Mr Katz said it was “time to convert words into action”.

The Australian cruise industry has submitted robust Covid protocols that have already been tried and tested on more than three million passengers overseas, since cruising restarted in Europe and the US.

Despite that, Mr Katz said the industry was still waiting on formal responses in Australia from the Government and health authorities.

Even if those formal responses and approvals came tomorrow, the cruise industry is not one that can get things up and running quickly.

“There are long lead times to get ships up and running. It’s very difficult for cruise companies to know when to push the start button with no certainty,” Mr Katz said.

“The crew needs to be recruited and vaccinated, then they have to be flown out to wherever the ship is, go through a quarantine process, get trained on whatever new protocols are needed.

“And, most of the ships are in the northern hemisphere, so they need to make their way down. All that needs to happen before they can even start the process of taking customers again.”

Mr Katz predicted a restart of Australia’s cruise industry in January (in 10-12 weeks’ time), a prediction he quickly revised when P&O announced it had been forced to again push its first cruises to February.

P&O Cruises Australia President Sture Myrmell said the voluntary pause had been extended due to the lack of a clear pathway towards restarting the industry.

“We are naturally disappointed for our guests and our many suppliers to have to extend the pause in operations by a further month,” Mr Myrmell said this morning.

“With society rapidly reopening including social gathering and travel just weeks away, there is a vital need for a pathway for the staged resumption of domestic cruising.

“Our guests have made it clear they want to cruise again and we look forward to welcoming them on board as soon as possible supported by comprehensive protocols based on the world’s best public health practice and standards.”

Royal Caribbean issued a similar statement earlier this month when it was forced to cancel the holiday plans of more than 50,000 Aussies hoping to get away on the Ovation of the Seas from December.

“A clear pathway for the return of foreign flagged ships and cruising in general is yet to be established by governments in Australia,” Gavin Smith, managing director Australia and New Zealand for Royal Caribbean International, said.

“As Australia opens up, we are committed to progressing the proactive conversations with federal and state governments on recommencing cruising in Australia and hope to provide an update soon.”

Mr Katz called on the Australian Government to observe how successful the cruise industry’s new protocols had been overseas.

“The majority of the world has restarted cruising and they’re using the exact same protocols we’ve tested here in Australia. They’ve already worked with close to three million passengers overseas,” he said.

The cruise industry has already committed to only carrying vaccinated and tested crew and passengers.

“Arguably, that will make cruising one of the most controlled environments you can be in,” Mr Katz said.

Cruise ships have also implemented Covid-safe protocols including capacity restrictions in restaurants and theatres.

There are more than 18,000 jobs that directly rely on the cruise industry in Australia and annual data shows the industry injects more than $750 million in revenue into Australia with passengers spending big at hotels, restaurants and cafes.

“They’re all desperate for that business to come back because it’s good, solid, constant business,” Mr Katz said.

“I was talking to a man the other day who sources the food from the Australian farmers. He buys thousands of tonnes of fresh food here in Australia … they supply lettuce, tomatoes, dairy … and they needed to know weeks ago if they’re going to start supplying food in January.

“You can’t blame travel agents for selling cruises overseas. Whatever opportunity they do have, they’ll take it because they need to generate revenue and get paid.”

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