By Lee Kah WhyeSingapore, July 11 (ANI): Singapore-based cruise ships started making port calls to neighbouring countries in July. This is the first time this is happening since the COVID-19 pandemic struck the world and closed international cruises for a time.
The first ports of call were Royal Caribbean's Spectrum of the Seas and Resorts World Cruises' Genting Dream which docked at Port Klang in Malaysia, and Indonesia's Batam and Bintan islands respectively. Both cruise ships are homeported in Singapore.
Just before COVID-19, Singapore's cruise industry and in particular the fly-cruise segment was seeing explosive growth. In 2018, Singapore cruise firms were reporting 25 per cent annual growth from Indian tourists. In 2017, around 127,000 Indians boarded one of the many luxury cruise lines which berthed in Singapore and took passengers on a pampered journey to various Southeast Asian destinations like Penang, Phuket and beyond. Many of them are on a fly-cruise itinerary.
Various cruise lines including Princess Cruise, Genting and Dream Cruise (the predecessor brands of Resorts World Cruises), Royal Caribbean, and Costa took advantage of Singapore's position as a regional hub to set up their Southeast Asian base. Back in 2019, more than 19 million people visited Singapore. The cruise industry in 2019 had over 1.82 million passengers and made 414 port calls. Over 400 cruise ships across 30 cruise brands called in Singapore in 2019.
So far this year, Singapore has had 959,000 foreign visitors, out of which about half or 418,000 arrived in May, the latest month for which data was available from the Singapore Tourism Board (STB).
Indians make up the second-largest nationality in terms of visitor arrivals in Singapore since the start of this year with 154,700 arrivals. Indonesians make up the largest group with 171,400 and Malaysians are third with 88,800 travellers coming to the island. Conspicuously missing from this data are the Chinese who used to form the largest group of visitors as their country is one of the few which have kept their borders closed. Over 3.63 million Chinese tourists arrived in Singapore in the last full year of travel before COVID-19 brought the travel industry to its knees.
STB said that Singapore is planning to rebuild its strong pipeline of cruise ship deployments by taking advantage of its strategic location, world-class air connectivity and excellent port infrastructure. It is also working with cruise lines to expand its customer base. Besides neighbours Indonesia and Malaysia, they are eyeing cruise passengers from countries further afield such as India, Australia, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States.
With Singapore reopening to all vaccinated visitors, the fly-cruise segment is expected to rebound strongly and is an area of focus for STB which has identified it as a key growth area. Prior to COVID-19, 70 per cent of Singapore's cruise passengers were international visitors travelling to Singapore to take a cruise to explore Southeast Asia and other regional countries. The strong demand for the fly-cruise segment will add to Singapore's appeal as a homeport for cruise lines.
To prepare for the return of fly-cruise travellers, STB will continue to offer the Cruise Development Fund to encourage cruise lines to homeport in Singapore. Cruise agents can also tap on this grant to develop and market cruise packages. Through such partnerships, STB helps cruise agents launch effective marketing campaigns to promote sailings from Singapore and showcase enticing cruise and land experiences, in turn attracting more travellers and cruise converts to Singapore.
During the COVID-19 border closures, Singapore residents who were stranded on their tiny island took to cruising as a way of leaving home and seeking a getaway for leisure. Since Singapore restarted cruising in November 2020, over half a million passengers have sailed on nearly 370 'cruise to nowhere' sailings. Many of them are first-timers. As more ships offer varied itineraries for cruising out of Southeast Asia, first-time cruisegoers are expected to support a strong rebound for the industry.
Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia are the first Southeast Asian countries to resume port calls since cruising was halted in March 2020. Coupled with positive discussions to resume similar calls in more ports and the alignment of health protocols across the region, STB expects the cruise industry in Singapore to return to pre-pandemic levels between 2023 and 2024.
"The resumption of port calls is an important milestone for Singapore and the region," said Mr Keith Tan, Chief Executive, STB. "It has been made possible by the strong partnership and collective commitment in ASEAN to grow the cruise industry. Cruising is a key tourism driver, and as ASEAN's lead coordinator for cruise development, Singapore will continue to work with our counterparts to strengthen the region's attractiveness as a cruising destination and source market.
"The return of cruising to destinations is timely, as countries around the region re-open to welcome visitors, revitalise their tourism sectors, and embrace the new normal. Our cruises already have so much to offer with technologically-advanced ships and an ever-expanding range of first-at-sea onboard activities. We look forward to developing more exciting itineraries for our guests in this region," said Ms Angie Stephen, Vice President and Managing Director, Asia-Pacific, Royal Caribbean International.
"We are committed to Singapore's vision to be a premier cruise hub in Asia. Together with STB, we look forward to growing the cruise sector, including the fly-cruise segment; and to making Singapore and Southeast Asia one of the largest year-round cruise destinations in the world," said Mr Michael Goh, President of Resorts World Cruises. (ANI)