Singapore Cruise Industry Resumes Port Calls after Two Years, Will Indians Travel?

Singapore-based cruise ships began making port calls to neighboring countries in July. This is the first time this has happened since the Covid-19 pandemic hit the world and shut down international cruises for a while.

First ports of call are Royal Caribbean’s Spectrum of the Seas and Resorts the world Cruises’ Genting Dream is docked in Port Klang, Malaysia and the islands of Batam and Bintan, Indonesia respectively. Both cruise ships are based in Singapore.

Before the pandemic, Singapore’s cruise industry, and particularly the fly-cruise segment, had seen explosive growth. In 2018, Singaporean cruise companies reported 25 percent annual growth from Indian tourists. In 2017, around 127,000 Indians boarded one of the many luxury cruise lines that 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 journey.

Various cruise lines, including Princess Cruises, Genting and Dream Cruises (predecessors of Resorts World Cruises), Royal Caribbean and Costa, have taken advantage of Singapore’s location as a regional hub to establish their Southeast Asian base. Back in 2019, over 19 million people visited Singapore. In 2019 the cruise industry carried over 1.82 million passengers and made 414 port calls. In 2019, over 400 cruise ships from 30 cruise brands arrived in Singapore.

So far this year, Singapore has had 959,000 foreign visitors, half of whom, or 418,000, came in May, the latest month for which data is available from the Singapore Tourism Board (STB).

Indians have been the second largest nationality in terms of visitors to Singapore since the beginning of this year with 154,700. Indonesians are the largest group with 171,400 and Malaysians are third with 88,800 travelers to the island. Conspicuously missing from this data are the Chinese, who form the largest group of visitors as their country is one of the few to keep its borders closed. More than 3.63 million Chinese tourists arrived in Singapore before Covid-19 brought the travel industry to its knees.

Singapore plans to build a strong pipeline of cruise ship expansions by taking advantage of its strategic location, world-class air connectivity and excellent port infrastructure, STB said. It is also working with cruise lines to expand its customer base. In addition to neighboring countries Indonesia and Malaysia, they see cruise passengers from other countries 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, an area STB has identified as a key growth area. Before Covid-19, 70 percent of Singapore’s cruise passengers were international visitors traveling to Singapore on vacation to explore Southeast Asia and other regional countries. Strong demand for the fly-cruise segment contributes to Singapore’s attractiveness as a homeport for cruise lines.

STB will continue to provide the Cruise Development Fund to encourage cruise lines to return to their homeport in Singapore, to attract fly-cruise travelers. 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, thus attracting more travelers and cruise converts to Singapore.

During the Covid-19 border closure, Singaporeans stranded on their tiny island have left home and taken to cruising as a relaxing escape. Since the relaunch of Singapore Cruising in November 2020, nearly half a million passengers have sailed on nearly 370 ‘Cruise to Nowhere’ sailings. Most of them are first timers. As more ships offer a variety of cruise routes from Southeast Asia, first-time cruisegoers are expected to support a strong rebound in the industry.

Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia are the first Southeast Asian countries to resume port calls after cruising was halted in March 2020. Positive discussions and alignment of health protocols across the region, STB expects the cruise industry to resume similar calls in more ports. Singapore will return to pre-pandemic levels between 2023 and 2024.

“The resumption of port calls is an important milestone for Singapore and the region,” said STB Chief Executive Mr Keith Tan. “This is made possible by the strong partnership and collective commitment within 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 colleagues 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 reopen to welcome visitors, revitalize their tourism sectors and embrace a new normal. Our cruises already have a lot to offer with technologically-advanced ships and ever-expanding first-at-sea onboard activities. We look forward to developing more exciting itineraries for our guests in the region,” said Ms Angie Stephen, Vice President and Managing Director, Asia-Pacific, Royal Caribbean International.

“We are committed to Singapore’s vision of being the premier cruise hub in Asia. Together with STB, we look forward to developing the cruise sector including the fly-cruise segment; and to make Singapore and Southeast Asia one of the largest year-round cruise destinations in the world,” said Mr. Michael Goh, President of Resorts World Cruises.

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