By Danielle Veivers
The great boom around the world in ocean cruises has definitely not left out the South Pacific, where cruising has been part of the travel scene for several decades.
In New Caledonia, industry leaders are focused on ensuring they get a fair share of the benefits from the huge growth in cruises.
The world wide market has jumped up from three million people going to sea in luxury in 1990, to 21.5 million this year, now still expanding at seven per cent a year, according to figures from a leading analyst Cruise Market Watch.
2012 figures show that only one per cent of total world wide passengers visited the Pacific Islands, three quarters of them Australians.
Australian and New Zealand travellers together account for over half the tourism traffic.
In Noumea, local councilor from the conservative party R-UMP Vaea Frogier says the trend is an opening to boost an industry that is yet to reach its full potential.
“Tourism is a drop of rain in the sea for us unfortunately,” she says.
Perhaps that could be altered by the latest trend, large cruise liners bringing more tourists to the area.
Just 10-15000 Australians visit the French island territory each year for an extended stay, but recently 300 000 tourists have been passing through on board large cruise ships, most spending a day or two on shore.
At the Australian diplomatic office in Noumea, this means more work to do.
The Consul General Heidi Bootle says large cruise liners often take advantage of Noumea’s reputable medical facilities.
“We have very high quality medical services here in Noumea so cruise ship operators tend to keep injured or ill people on board until they dock here.
“Caring for them can give us Australian diplomats quite a headache,” she says.
Ms Bootle has also recently posted a warning that not all medical cases brought on shore from the ships have been honoured by the passenger’s travel insurance.
She says that previously local tourist offices viewed cruise passengers as out of reach and not profitable for their business.
However, there has been a shift in attitude recently and tour operators have begun offering more day tours, which boosts revenue and encourages return visits.
“Noumea needs to step up its game so that people will want to come back and visit for longer.
“The locals have gotten smarter and have begun increasing day tour offerings to get tourists to spend money here,” Ms Bootle says.
The more isolated parts of an island group are more accessible to a ship, and in New Caledonia the Loyalty Islands and the Isle of Pines are amongst the most popular for dropping anchor and sending people ashore.
It’s the same trend in Vanuatu to the North.
Royson Willie, a Port Villa newspaper editor, says the huge vessels are frequenting more of the outer islands.
“They will come from New Caledonia and call at the Northern islands, then stop by Port Vila, but also visit Pentecost and other islands,” he says.
Cruise ship passengers are being welcomed by the locals, especially in remote areas, and the fabled South Pacific is living up to its name with coral atolls, village life, beaches, culture and ceremonial dance.