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Travel & Holiday

Holiday on the high seas

More younger Singaporeans are opting for cruise holidays as companies rebrand themselves to appeal to both young and old
The Straits Times - March 27, 2012
By: Huang Huifen
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Holiday on the high seas Corporate finance associate Tan Jing Sheng went to Phuket on a four-night cruise. -- PHOTO: COURTESY OF TAN JING SHENG

For a short getaway two months ago, corporate finance associate Tan Jing Sheng, 27, and his girlfriend travelled to Phuket onboard Royal Caribbean International's Legend of the Seas four-night cruise instead of taking a one-hour plus flight there - much to the bewilderment of his colleagues.

'They wondered what was wrong with us because they had this perception that cruises were boring and for retirees, where all you do is eat and gamble. But in fact, there were activities for every age group,' says Mr Tan, who paid about $600 a person.

He and his girlfriend, credit analyst Charlene Ang, 26, spent most of their time onboard chilling at the ship's pool deck. But they did disembark in Port Klang to hunt down a famous bak kut teh stall and in Phuket, they went on an elephant safari.




He says: 'We like the idea of cruising for a short getaway because it is relaxing, compared to flying to nearby destinations and getting exhausted at the end of the day with a jam-packed schedule of shopping and sightseeing.'

The couple recalled that the majority of passengers onboard the cruise were retirees and families with children, but cruise operators and travel agencies say there are more young people in their 20s to 40s taking to the high seas.

They either go on regional cruises from Singapore or fly to ports in popular destinations such as the Mediterranean, northern Europe, Alaska and Antarctica, and set sail from there around the region.

Mr Robert Khoo, chief executive of the National Association of Travel Agents Singapore (Natas), says that 10 years ago, 80 per cent of cruise passengers from Singapore were in their 50s and above, and only 20 per cent were in the 25 to 40s age range. Now, the proportion is 60 to 40.

Ms Jennifer Yap, managing director of Royal Caribbean Cruises (Asia), says that one out of three Singaporeans on Royal Caribbean's cruises out of Singapore is between 25 and 45 years old. They are young couples and families with children aged from six months to their teens.

For the fly-cruises to popular destinations such as Europe and Alaska, she says that in the last two to three years, the proportion of Singaporean passengers in their 20s to 30s has risen from 20 per cent to 30 per cent.

Mr Melvyn Yap, regional director (Asia) of luxury liner Silversea Cruises, has also seen a similar change over the last five years, where those in their 40s and younger have grown from 30 to 40 per cent.

'The younger ones are more willing to spend, unlike the older generation,' he says, counting businessmen, lawyers, doctors and accountants among his clientele.

A Europe fly-cruise package costs 20 to 30 per cent more than a similar land package, says Ms Alicia Seah, CTC Travel's senior vice-president of marketing and public relations.

For example, a 12-day Scandinavia and Russia cruise with return flight costs $5,024, compared to a 12-day all-inclusive Scandinavia land tour with flight, which costs about $4,200.

However, regional cruises cost less and are more value for money, she says. For example, a four-night regional cruise to destinations such as Koh Samui, Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City costs from $1,512 a person compared to a four-night flight and hotel package to all these destinations, which costs about $1,800 a person.

Regional cruises from Singapore make up 80 per cent of CTC's cruise sales, with the rest made up of fly-cruises to places such as Alaska.

Mr Khoo also attributes the shift in passenger demographics to how cruises have rebranded themselves to appeal to both the old and young. Aside from more sedate activities such as painting lessons and gambling at the casinos which appeal to the older age group, cruises now offer more activities for the younger generation such as rock- climbing, in-line skating and clubbing.

However, compared to retirees, those in their 20s to 40s do not have the luxury of time to spend on lengthy cruise journeys, some of which can go up to more than 100 days at sea.

Which is why cruises with shorter voyages from seven to 10 days are popular among this group of time-pressed travellers from Asia, says Mr Yap of Silversea.

For example, Silversea has an option of shorter voyages to popular destinations such as the Mediterranean, northern Europe, Alaska and the Antarctic. So you can go on a seven-day cruise from Rome to Venice from US$3,199 a person, or extend to a 21-day voyage starting from Barcelona through Rome and Venice which costs US$11,296.

Royal Caribbean says it offers short voyages between three and five nights from Singapore to attract a younger demographic.

Cruise fans such as banker Jonathan Poh, 38, find that going on cruises is the most convenient form of travel. He went on two cruises with his wife in 2007 and last year travelled to the Mediterranean and South Africa on Silversea Cruises. He paid US$8,000 for two for the seven-day Mediterranean cruise and US$10,000 for two for the 10-day South Africa cruise.

Next year, he plans to go for an Alaskan cruise with his wife and three-year-old daughter.

He says: 'I have done many land tours and I end up being more exhausted, moving from one location to another and having to pack and unpack. But on the cruise, the air is fresh, meal and activity times flexible, and service is so personal.'

More cruise ships calling here

This year, cruise lovers will be spoilt for choice with double the number of ships making maiden calls in Singapore compared to last year.

The opening of the $500-million International Cruise Terminal in Marina South in the second quarter will bring three large ships here: the 3,840-passenger Voyager of the Seas, the 2,850-passenger Celebrity Solstice and the 2,038-passenger Celebrity Millennium, all under the Royal Caribbean Cruises umbrella.

The 21-year-old Singapore Cruise Centre at HarbourFront will have a new look after a $14-million renovation in May and is expected to welcome eight new ships, including the 694-passenger Azamara Journey, part of the boutique cruise brand Azamara Club Cruises, and the 450-passenger Seabourn Odyssey by Seattle-based luxury liner Seabourn. The new vessels will sail to different ports of call in the region from familiar places such as Phuket, Vietnam and Hong Kong to more exotic ones such as Komodo and Surabaya in Indonesia, Cambodia's Sihanoukville, and as far afield as Darwin in Australia.

National Association of Travel Agents chief executive Robert Khoo expects the interest in cruise travel to grow here. 'With the new cruise terminal, more cruise liners will call on Singapore. This makes a significant difference to the local cruising market as there will be more products available to Singaporeans, who will be able to sail on more ships and to more ports of call in the region, including Indonesia and Cambodia,' he says.

By 2030, Asians are expected to make up about one-third of the world's 35 million cruise passengers, up from just 8 per cent at present.




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