Quick tips for creating cruise shore experiences

Shore excursions enable cruise passengers to explore a destination with local guides.

About cruise tourism in NSW

Cruise tourism refers to holidays that are based entirely or partly on a cruise. It enables travellers to spend time at various destinations throughout their trip and enjoy local experiences.

NSW is the home of cruise in Australia with the cruise industry generating a total expenditure of $1.55 billion into the tourism industry. In 2019, cruising to regional ports in NSW grew by 35 per cent and generated $25 million. (Port Authority of NSW, 2019).

The Australian cruise season generally runs from October to April. International ships typically sail north for the Northern Hemisphere summer, while some Australia-based ships continue to operate in Australian waters.

When cruise ships visit NSW ports during cruise season, passengers can book shore excursions, enabling them to explore the destination with local guides and try local experiences.

What is the cruise opportunity for destinations?

  • Capture spend in the destination from cruise ship passengers, which supports the local visitor economy.
  • Encourage pre- and post- travel in turnaround ports, another name for ports where a cruise starts or ends.
  • Sell exclusive, tailored cruise experiences to cruise ship passengers in transit ports, where the port is a stop in an ongoing itinerary.
  • Build awareness of the destination and its experiences and inspire high value travellers to create positive word of mouth, and book return visits to those destinations. Approximately 20 per cent of cruise visitors return independently to a destination visited on a cruise.

Types of cruise ships

Leisure cruise

Typically operates as round-trip voyage to various ports-of-call, where passengers may go on tours known as 'shore excursions'; each cruise liner targeting a specific market.

Cruise lines include:

  • P&O Cruises
  • Princess Cruises
  • Royal Caribbean
  • Norwegian Cruise Line
  • Silversea Carnival Cruise Line
  • Cunard
Expedition cruise

Typically has more emphasis on the experience ashore, excursions and ports of call – many of which are much more off-the-beaten-track than mainstream cruises.

Expedition cruises include:

  • Ponant
  • Coral Expeditions
  • Noble Caledonia
  • Windstar Cruises
  • Lindblad Expeditions
Where can cruise ships go in NSW? (size and weather dependent)

Cruise ships in NSW can travel to:

  • Yamba
  • Coffs Harbour
  • Trial Bay
  • Newcastle
  • Sydney
  • Wollongong (Port Kembla)
  • Kiama
  • Batemans Bay
  • Eden

About cruise ship passengers

Different cruise lines and ships attract passengers looking for different experience types. There are also many international markets which cruise travel appeals to. For more information on international markets, visit Destination NSW’s Facts & Figures and Tourism Australia’s Market Profiles.

  • Travelling as a couple is the most common travelling party, especially Empty Nesters.
  • Families see cruising as meeting multiple needs and an affordable form of luxury for families. Family-friendly activities are highly motivating for this group.
  • Multi-generational travel (with more than two generations of families travelling together) has seen strong growth.
  • People who are interested in taking a cruise generally plan their holiday 12-24 months out.

Tips to prepare for cruise season

  • Cruise season is defined as 1 October to 30 April, with ‘peak cruise season’ over 1 December to 30 March. Your cruise product will need to be available during this period, with exclusive experiences for cruise passengers.
  • Itineraries are planned 18 months to three years in advance, so tours, attractions and activity providers commit to delivering cruise experiences, and rates, well ahead of time.
  • In some regional ports, there may only be a few days per year when cruise ships visit. Any cruise experiences you develop should be complemented by your usual year-round experiences for visitors in general.
  • When visiting a port, cruise passengers may book a two- to six-hour shore excursion during the daytime, including transfers within 30-60 minutes from port. They will often then have free time to explore the port on their own. When tailoring your experience, it is necessary to keep to this timeframe and commit to returning passengers to the ship on time.

Tailoring cruise experiences

Tips for tours, activities and attractions

  • Cruise experiences can be tailored for large groups, small groups, or private experiences, such as helicopter tours.
  • Cruise passengers are increasingly looking for boutique experiences. Create something exclusive to cruise passengers visiting your port, which is not available to your year-round visitors.
  • Unique nature-based experiences have high appeal for cruise visitors, such as wilderness wildlife and landscapes.
  • Aboriginal-led experiences can create connections to country and culture and create a sense of welcome and belonging. They are of particular interest to the international cruise market.
  • Create authentic moments to experience local places, people and produce, so that cruise visitors feel immersed in the culture, personalities and flavours unique to your destination.
  • Hands-on learning experiences are a great way to create a sense of local immersion, such as cooking classes, bush tucker experiences, craft workshops or tasting experiences at a winery, brewery or distillery.
  • Food and drink experiences are popular with the domestic cruise market. Consider a food festival or event to showcase your region’s local produce.
  • Showcase the sustainable and socially responsible elements of your experience, for example vegan menu options, ocean-friendly sunscreen, and fair-trade coffee.
  • Make it Instagrammable: create moments to capture on camera that cruise passengers are compelled to post on their social channels. Don’t forget to share your hashtags with cruise visitors.
  • Offer your tailored product exclusively to cruise visitors during their cruise visit, via the cruise line’s ground handler. This means you will lock in the bookings well ahead of time.
  • Keep it close to port – most cruise shore experiences will be within a 30–60-minute transfer from the port and cruise ship. If you have your own transport and can include a transfer to your experience this can be an addition, but make sure you have a host on board to provide commentary so the visitors are getting the most from your activity. Otherwise, the ground handler will arrange for transport to support your experience.

Tips for dining and retail businesses

Food, drink and shopping in a destination can enable cruise visitors to explore independently and spend during their visit.

Dining and retail businesses can target cruise visitors through:

  • Checking the cruise ship schedule for your port and planning to be open, with appropriate opening hours and staffing to enable cruise visitors to become customers.
  • Preparing your staff to expect and welcome cruise ship visitors.
  • Participating in local markets or events that coincide with cruise ship visits.
  • Promoting special offers for cruise visitors on signage outside the venue.
  • Showcasing local products and menus to appeal to cruise visitors.

How to sell your experience to cruise passengers

  • Passengers can choose and book a shore excursion while on board their ship. On smaller expedition ships, shore experiences are often part of a prepaid package. In both cases, the shore excursions are coordinated by a ground handler and typically include experiences tailored specifically to the passenger type on board the ship.
  • To sell your experience to cruise passengers, you will need to work with a ground handler, who can arrange to sell your product via the cruise line. The ground handler may also give you feedback on tailoring to a specific type of visitor.
  • While cruise passengers may book shore experiences independently once they are in port, or prior to arrival via a third party, this is not the most reliable option for tourism businesses as there is no guarantee of bookings. There is also the issue that the ship may leave port without the passengers if they are late to return – which would not be the case with an experience booked via the cruise line and ground handler.
To sell your experience to cruise passengers, you will need to work with a ground handler, who can arrange to sell your product via the cruise line.

Key cruise contacts

Cruise passenger health and safety

Cruise industry COVID-19 protocols incorporate testing, vaccination, screening, sanitation, enhanced ventilation, mask-wearing, physical distancing, and other proven public health measures that are facilitating a responsible return to sailing. NSW Health manages protective measures against COVID-19 at seaports in NSW. More information about this can be found at the NSW Health website.

Cruise Lines International Association Covid Health Measures.