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From Cruise Ship Groupies To Honeymooners And Uni Breakers, The Whitsundays Has Welcomed Passengers Ashore For The First Time In More Than Two Years

By Ray White Whitsunday

Courtesy of ABC Tropical North Hannah Walsh and Tegan Philpott

Whitsundays welcomes cruise ship passengers ashore for first time in more than two years.

Key Points:

Cruising was worth $10 million a year to the local economy before COVID-19.

40 to 50 ships will stop in Airlie Beach between now and Christmas.

The Pacific Encounter is the first cruise liner to visit the region since the industry re-opened from a COVID-19 shutdown in March. 

It had about 2,000 people on board when it set sail from Sydney earlier in the week.

Volunteer Ambassador Program coordinator Brian Richardson said cruising was worth about $10 million a year to the local economy.

He said there would be between 40 and 50 cruise ships docking at Airlie Beach in the run up to Christmas. 

“It works out at close to 80,000 people if it all happens,” he said.

“Pre COVID we had 60 ships in a financial year…there will be 26 just in November.

“It’s a bit scary actually.”

He said it was subject to everything going to plan.

“We’ve set up a new process because of COVID and the flu,” he said. 

He said volunteers tried to keep a bit of distance from the passengers who came in.

“We meet and greet them and give them a little map … point them in the direction of the bus,” he said.

Ferry impressive 

Passengers will explore the best of the region, reef and restaurants. 

Whitsunday Regional Council acting mayor Mike Brunker said Friday’s arrival was like waiting at the airport for a loved one. 

“The guys on the cruise ship today are the groupies … they’re rock solid and love their cruise boats,” he said.

“A good percentage of Australians are saying well let’s see how the first couple go.”

New South Wales South Coast resident Wendy Grima said she already had five cruises lined up.

“It’s great to be back on the seas and having lots of fun,” Ms Grima said.

“I haven’t been here since 1988.”

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Tourism town

Councillor Jan Clifford said intra-state visitors from places like Moranbah and Townsville had kept the region afloat.

“They’re a different market, they don’t spend as much as the internationals do but they’ve kept us alive,” Ms Clifford said.

“I hope the Aussies that are waiting for their passports come and visit us before they take off to Fiji again.”

Tourism operator Jan Claxton said she already had lots of forward bookings at her business, Ocean Rafting.

“One of the last trips we did before we closed down was to a cruise ship,” Ms Claxton said.

“It really feels quite nostalgic today … picking up where we left off.”

She said it was good that the Whitsundays had welcomed a lot of the Australian domestic tourist market during COVID-19.

“We had so many people over the last two years go I didn’t even know that this place existed,” she said.

“I think we will retain people who will come every year even when they start going back overseas.”

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