'We are happy to support this': Tourist injection to aid economy after bushfires

The Pacific Aria sits inside bushfire ravaged Twofold Bay, which includes the fire-damaged Eden chip mill, on Friday. Picture: Alasdair McDonald
The Pacific Aria sits inside bushfire ravaged Twofold Bay, which includes the fire-damaged Eden chip mill, on Friday. Picture: Alasdair McDonald

With bushfire charred hills and blue skies as its backdrop, it is hoped the presence of a tourist-packed cruise ship in Twofold Bay last week was the first of four, aimed at stimulating the local economy after the region's worst natural disaster in recent memory.

When the Pacific Aria docked in Snug Cove on Friday with 1400 people on board, Carnival Australia owned cruise company P&O Cruises Australia also announced a further 6000 tourists will be brought to Eden on three ships over coming months.

Given the circumstances we are in with lost January tourists, we'll take as many as they can bring.

Eden Chamber of Commerce president Peter Whiter

"The people of Eden and surrounding communities have endured a terrible period with the impact of the bushfires," president of Carnival Australia and P&O Cruises Australia Sture Myrmell said.

"Pacific Aria's arrival today sends a powerful message that the local community is resilient, courageous and ready to welcome visitors.

Port Authority of NSW's Natalie Godward and Eden Chamber of Commerce president Peter Whiter in front of the Pacific Aria on Friday. Picture: Alasdair McDonald

Port Authority of NSW's Natalie Godward and Eden Chamber of Commerce president Peter Whiter in front of the Pacific Aria on Friday. Picture: Alasdair McDonald

"We are delighted to be playing a part in the region's recovery and the three additional P&O ship visits will certainly contribute to much needed commercial activity and support the community's message that the region is on the path to recovery."

Three scheduled "cruises to nowhere", with the ship the Pacific Explorer, will now bring tourists to Eden on March 29, May 10 and May 16, with some customers taking to social media to thank the company for allowing them to help support the bushfire ravaged South Coast with their tourist dollar.

"We will definitely be spending some much needed money there," said one customer who had been advised of their changed holiday schedule next month.

"[What a] brilliant idea, and we are happy to support this," said another.

The Eden area was ravaged by the Border Fire as it approached from Victoria. Picture: Alasdair McDonald

The Eden area was ravaged by the Border Fire as it approached from Victoria. Picture: Alasdair McDonald

President of the Eden Chamber of Commerce Peter Whiter said many businesses have lost their peak season income due to the bushfire crisis, which has seen four cruise ship cancellations within the first month of 2020.

"The impact that the horrific fires have had on our tourist economy has been almost as disastrous as the fires themselves. It's going to be a long road to recovery and these visits will help establish the recovery in Eden and the region," he said.

"Given the circumstances we are in with lost January tourists, we'll take as many as they can bring."

On January 19, another Carnival Australia-brand ship, Princess Cruises' Sun Princess, was the first ship to return to Kangaroo Island following devastating bushfire.

Visitors aboard the Pacific Aria look out over Twofold Bay. Picture: Alasdair McDonald

Visitors aboard the Pacific Aria look out over Twofold Bay. Picture: Alasdair McDonald

After the completion of the $44million wharf extension last year, assistant minister for regional development Nola Marino described the project as the "economic backbone" of the town, with Bega MP Andrew Constance hoping the investment would see tourism money flow on to local business.

"Our region has been rocked to its core and we need people now more than ever to visit," Mr Constance said on Friday.

"This will provide an economic injection that many of our local businesses certainly need at this time."

The state government's 2018 cruise ship development plan states the wharf development and a focus on developing the town's existing tourist infrastructure would bring "significant employment benefits for the local region".

Captain of the Pacific Aria Nicholas Boon was presented with a plaque from the town. Picture: Alasdair McDonald

Captain of the Pacific Aria Nicholas Boon was presented with a plaque from the town. Picture: Alasdair McDonald

"In Eden, for example, in the 2016-17 season, 91 per cent of ship passengers disembarked and 26 per cent of passengers participated in an official shore excursion facilitated by the cruise line," the report said.

"Cruise passengers participate in shore excursions, daytrips to surrounding regions and stay overnight pre or post their cruise visit."

Captain of the Pacific Aria Nicholas Boon was presented with a plaque from the town, and said he hoped the ship's visit "will boost morale in some way".

The Port Authority of NSW's Natalie Godward said the cruise company approached the authority about the idea of extra ship visits, even though it was costing them additional money to do so.

"It is a significant investment by them, and they've changed the holiday plans of around 6000 people," she said.

"It is pretty unique for a port the size of Eden to be gifted this by such a big company."