CAIRNS’ proximity to untouched beaches and pristine areas of Papua New Guinea has been a deciding factor in P&O Cruises basing their Pacific Eden in the port next year.
The 1300-passenger ship makes its maiden voyage under P&O’s flag on Tuesday at 7am and will be based in Cairns from September to November next year and 2017, bringing a $16 million economic boost.
Six of Eden’s nine itineraries from Cairns next year feature Papua New Guinea while, in 2017, nine out of 10 visit PNG ports including the first international short break, a four-night cruise from Cairns to Alotau.
Carnival Australia destination director Michael Mihajlov said P&O had long wanted to base a ship in Cairns.
“Cairns is the gateway to some of the best cruising grounds in the world,” he said.
Mr Mihajlov said there were some spectacular beaches and pristine environments that the ship would visit.
He said the Conflict Islands of atolls were “as good as they get”.
Mr Mihajlov said P&O had completed an environmental assessment to ensure the ship and passengers made “minimal impact” on the islands.
The privately-owned Conflict Islands are one of the most remote groups in the world. The 21 picturesque islands surround a blue lagoon that is home to one of the world’s most biodiverse reef systems.
In a landmark partnership for the region, P&O Cruises has worked with eccentric entrepreneur and passionate conservationist Ian Gowrie-Smith to visit his islands
Mr Mihajlov said forward bookings were promising.
“The Cairns market is very open to cruising,” he said. Mr Mihajlov said he expected many bookings to come from residents in the region, keen to explore PNG.
He said marketing would ramp up in January and he expected guests to fly in early or stay in Cairns after the cruises.
P&O’s growth in Cairns is set to double in just two years.
Tourism Tropical North Queensland chief executive Alex de Waal said the industry welcomed the ship. “Home porting delivers significant economic benefits,” he said.