The nation‟s top cruise industry executives will be in Newcastle this week to attend the annual conference of Cruise Down Under.

About 100 delegates will attend the three-day conference which is headlined by international keynote speakers from the cruise industry.

General Manager of Cruise Down Under, Jill Abel, said Newcastle had been chosen as host city for its 15th annual conference following a successful regional bid by Cruise Hunter, the local organisation managed by Newcastle Port Corporation that is responsible for growing the local cruise shipping industry.

“A strength of Cruise Hunter‟s bid for Newcastle to host Australia‟s most significant and important cruise industry event was the support and cooperation of stakeholders, including the regional tourism industry,” said Abel.

The conference will be held between 24-26 August at the twin venues of Newcastle City Hall and the Crowne Plaza Hotel. Themed „Getting Regions Onboard‟, it is the first time the conference has been held in Newcastle and is testament to the city being one of Australia‟s emerging regional cruise destinations.

International and domestic keynote speakers will provide an insight into the current industry trends and discuss cruise issues on an international, domestic and regional level. The keynote cruise executive speakers include:

-  Captain Cees Deelstra, Vice President Nautical Operations for Holland America Line
-  David Vass, Vice President Destination and Enrichment Programs for The World
-  Gavin Smith, Managing Director for Royal Caribbean Cruises Australia

Delegates attending the conference include representatives from cruise lines, ports, tourism bodies, inbound tour operators and businesses looking to capitalise on Australia‟s growing cruise shipping industry. Delegates have registered from countries including New Zealand, Indonesia and the USA.

Jil said the conference program included a range of plenary sessions as well as workshops and industry gatherings. Areas of discussion will include the development of regional ports, shore excursion programs, pre and post cruise opportunities, infrastructure and economic benefits of the cruise shipping industry.

CEO of Newcastle Port Corporation, Gary Webb, said the Australian cruise market was performing very well with more and larger cruise ships being deployed to the region.

“As the number of cruise ships in Australia increases, so does the role and opportunity for regional ports, such as Newcastle,” Webb added.

“There is no better opportunity to promote our port capabilities and diverse tourism experiences than to have key decision-makers from the cruise industry visit Newcastle and surrounding Hunter Region.

“Newcastle hosting the 2011 Cruise Down Under conference also is a great lead-in to another busy cruise season with 11 ship visits expected in during 2011/2012.

“In addition, 12 cruise ship bookings have been received for the 2012 - 13 cruise season which paints a bright picture for Newcastle‟s local cruise shipping industry.”

Conference delegates during 2011 Cruise Down Under will be well exposed to regional tourism attractions with tours planned to the Hunter Valley and Port Stephens. The social highlight will be the „Taste of the Hunter‟ Showcase featuring Hunter Valley-based wineries and produce stalls within the historic grounds of Fort Scratchley.

Gary said the conference would be officially launched on the first evening (24 Aug) at the recently opened Newcastle Museum to provide delegates with a wonderful insight into the Hunter Region‟s newest attraction.