International tourists will be hitting Australian shores in just two weeks – but one industry is still waiting for the welcome mat to be rolled out.

International tourists are due to hit Australian shores in less than two weeks, a decision that has left a sour taste in the nation’s crippled cruise industry.

The federal government announced a ban on all cruise ships in March 2020, following the Ruby Princess debacle.

One of Australia’s first Covid outbreaks, the Ruby Princess was eventually linked to more than 900 infections and at least 28 deaths after it docked in Sydney.

The nationwide cruise ban has been extended every few months, with the industry hoping it would get the green light before December 17 last year, when the ban was due to end and more than a month after NSW and Victoria announced fully vaccinated Australians could fly into Sydney or Melbourne and be free of quarantine.

Instead, the cruise ban was extended a further three months to February 17.

With less than two weeks to go until that date, the cruise industry, valued at $5.2 billion in Australia, is ramping up its calls to lift the ban.

Speaking to The Daily Telegraph, managing director Australasia of Cruise Lines International Association, Joel Katz, said Sydney was once “one of the world’s great cruising destinations”.

“Sydney is Australia’s biggest cruising gateway, welcoming thousands of cruise passengers a day, without cruising, Sydney is missing out on more than $1.5 billion worth of annual spending from passengers and crew, and our city streets are missing thousands of visitors who would be exploring our shops and restaurants, or extending their stay in city hotels,” he said.

Tourism and Transport Forum chief executive Margy Osmond has also warned it could take years for Australia’s tourism industry to recover.

“There’s a big gap between ­actuality and where we need to be,” Ms Osmond told The Australian.

“Part of that will be complicated because countries around the world are also desperate to get those tourists back. So we’ll be in a bidding war.”

Before the coronavirus pandemic, cruise ships were bringing in more than 1.8 million passengers to Sydney alone and the industry was responsible for creating more than 18,000 jobs.

P&O Cruises Australia was forced to cancel another 15 cruises late last month scheduled to depart from Sydney or Brisbane between April 23, 2022 until May 28, 2022.

“P&O Cruises Australia acknowledges the understandable disappointment of guests whose cruises are affected and apologises for the disruption to their holiday plans,” the company said in a statement.

“The pause period reflects that it will take several months for a ship to return to operation once government agencies and public health authorities have worked with the industry to agree protocols.

“Australia is one of the last remaining major cruise markets in the world without a return to service pathway.”

Cruise fanatics in Australia have even resorted to flying internationally to get their holiday fix, including Patrea and Ed Stuttard.

The couple are so passionate they flew to the US in late December to go on six voyages with Carnival Cruise Line, five of which were back-to-back.

“We can’t cruise from Australia at the moment and we wanted to celebrate the New Year at sea so we decided we needed to sail out of the US,” Patrea and Ed told P&O.

“We believe the cruise line has minimised any Covid-19 risk as much as they can, and so have we. The risk of getting it on a cruise is much lower than visiting a shopping centre or visiting a football game.

“And three million or more people have cruised in the US since it opened back up.”

The couple said they were still waiting on a restart to cruising back home.

“We’re only doing this trip (to America) because we can’t cruise locally. We would have liked to do back-to-back cruises from Australia and the money would go back to the local economy. Now all we can do is bring the positive cruise story back home.”