Singapore emerging as Asian hub for cruises

February 27th, 2008 - 9:31 am ICT by admin  

By Ruth Youngblood
Singapore, Feb 27 (DPA) Avid cruiser Janet Grove had no qualms about flying 18 hours from California to board a luxury liner in Singapore although she could have opted for a vessel far closer to home for her Asian tour. “Starting out from the right place makes a big difference,” said Grove, whisked from Changi Airport along traffic-free roads to a posh hotel for a rest before tackling the array of shopping, international fare and verdant gardens in the city-state.

Scanning the skyline while boarding the Crystal Symphony two days later, lawyer Grove said Singapore’s efficiency make it an ideal departure point as well as a compelling place to visit. “It’s well worth the long flight,” she said.

With a new cruise centre opening in 2010, the same year as two multi-billion-dollar casino resorts, the city-state’s prime location between major international maritime routes and strong air connectivity, Singapore is emerging as Asia’s hub for the burgeoning numbers enticed by the prospect of first spotting the many enticing locations at sea.

“Cruises are the in thing now in Asia,” said Cheong Teow Cheng, president of the Singapore Cruise Centre.

Ocean Shipping Consultants forecasts a robust 40 percent growth in cruise passengers in Asia from 1.07 million in 2005 to 1.5 million by 2010 and 2 million in 2015.

Cruise passengers in South East Asia are expected to reach 820,000 by 2020, from 400,000 in 2005.

“Recognizing the appeals of Asia’s varied landscape, the hospitality of its people and the prospect of new multi-cultural experiences, international cruise operators are seizing the opportunity to make inroads with Singapore their gateway into the region,” said Carrie Kwik, director of cruises for the Singapore Tourism Board.

Asia is both a new source of cruise passengers within the region as well as an “exotic destination for avid passengers from the Western markets,” she said.

Singapore encourages cruise companies to collaborate on joint development initiatives and regional marketing efforts to raise awareness of the lures of sea travel such as distractions including pools, saunas, casinos, nightly entertainment, plays and sumptuous meals. An array of sports are available on board, including rock climbing offered by some lines.

A 10-million-Singapore-dollar ($7-million) Fly-Cruise Development Fund encourages new and existing cruise companies to anchor strategic Asian deployments in Singapore by leveraging on its strength as a densely connected air and sea hub to give passengers more varied travel options, Kwik said.

With terminals sprouting up across the region, Singapore is helping the sector develop, noted Cheong.

“For port operators, we are never in competition. We are complementary because every cruise liner needs a series of ports to form an itinerary,” Cheong said.

“We’ve been offering consulting services to other ports to help them build and manage their terminals,” he added

The competition has triggered wide diversity in itineraries.

Crystal Cruises’ “Silk and Spices” voyage, for example, leaves Singapore for a 16-day venture with calls in Phuket in Thailand, Cochin, Marmagoa, and Mumbai in India, Muscat, Oman, Eoha, Qatar and Dubai.

For those who prefer a shorter stint, Royal Caribbean sails from Singapore to Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Hong Kong, a total of five nights.

There are also “voyages to nowhere” popular with Asian gamblers. Ships leave at night and return the following morning, with many diehards bleary-eyed.

Singapore is the homeport for Star Cruises’ Superstar Gemini, Superstar Virgo and Superstar Aquarius, Royal Caribbean’s Legend of the Seas and Italian liner Costa Allegra, seasonally.

It’s the port-of-call this year for a variety of ships, including Cunard’s Queen Victoria on her maiden world cruise, ships from Princess Cruises, P&O, Oceania Cruises, Holland America Line and Crystal, among many others.

The new centre and a second terminal will address the complaints of cruise operators citing height and size limitations that prevent the new generation of larger ships from docking near the centre. Instead, occasional berthing shortfalls have forced ships to call at Singapore’s container port where passengers have had to disembark rather unceremoniously.

While Hong Kong’s new centre is expected to be completed sooner, Kwik does not view this as daunting Singapore’s appeal.

“The opportunity to explore more than one country is what makes cruising so special,” Kwik said.

“It is Asia’s many attractions that entice travellers to embark on different cruise journeys,” she added.

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