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Travel & Holiday

Cruising towards massive growth

STB, travel agencies looking to tap business potential in the region
The Straits Times - April 12, 2013
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Cruising towards massive growth

HINGS spring into action when a cruise ship docks here: Tour agents rush to cater to thousands of disembarking passengers, the vessel is repaired, refuelled and restocked. If the journey ends here, passengers usually stay a few days before flying back home.

All this was worth $520 million in 2010, according to the Singapore Tourism Board (STB), which was unable to provide an updated figure. But the Asia Cruise Terminal Association estimates a 20 per cent growth since then.

STB's cruise director Ong Huey Hong said: "We are on the cusp of massive growth. Cruise awareness in Asia is low and there is a lot of potential."

An increasing number of cruise lines are now home-porting in the Republic - which means that they start and end their routes here. Larger ships are also docking here, she said.

Yesterday The Straits Times reported how premium liner, the 2,670-passenger Sapphire Princess, will operate out of Singapore from November next year. Owner Princess Cruises estimated that it will contribute $50 million to the local economy in its initial four-month season alone.

Over the past decade, the number of cruise passengers visiting Singapore grew by 6.5 per cent annually, the STB said, hitting 907,000 last year. Numbers are expected to reach 1.5 million by 2016.

The STB is now forming a committee, made up of its staff and ground handlers, to come up with itineraries for cruise passengers.

It will also visit Indonesia and India soon to debunk myths about cruising among tourists.

A recent survey found that Indian tourists associate cruising with "high hidden costs", said Ms Ong. Indonesians, on the other hand, fear that they will be bored on board due to a lack of activities.

Last month, travel agency CTC Travel formed a 12-man team to sell cruise packages and set up a dedicated booking hotline. Spokesman Alicia Seah said bookings for January to June are up more than five times on what they were during that period last year.

"It's mostly locals buying packages. Demand is growing, cruise travel is becoming less niche and more mainstream," she said.

At Chan Brothers, cruise package sales have risen by 30 per cent in each of the past two years. It opened a cruise centre in Chinatown last year to handle bookings.

City Tours, which runs customised day tours here, has handled 300 cruise customers this year, up from 200 in all of last year. Marketing manager Isabella Hon said: "Usually they want a quick insight on Singapore and an action-packed tour. Probably because they get bored on board."

Sembawang Shipyard, the repair yard of Sembcorp Marine, completed four cruise ship projects in January and will work on eight more this year, generating $60 million for the yard.

Wallem Shipping - which coordinates services for ships docked at the two terminals here - handled 100 cruise ships from April last year to March this year, up from 80 in previous years.

Its director Frankie Tan, 55, is concerned that berths here could be insufficient to capture future growth. "More ships coming this way is good business for us and everyone. But the maximum Singapore can accommodate is four ships a day. If business grows, ships may be turned away during peak season."

Businessman Daniel Lee, 60, is going on his first cruise since the 1980s in June, visiting Malaysia with his wife and granddaughter. "There are more options now. Larger ships are coming here and prices are more reasonable."

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