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Southeast Asia's cruise revival driven by Singapore and India

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From left, moderator Ted Blamey, Francesco Raffa, Jasem Zaiton, Angies Stephen and Michael Goh share their insights
Singapore and India are both the major hubs and source markets currently impacting the revival of Southeast Asia cruising.

Singapore's continued success in securing seasonal and year-round turnarounds from international brands across different segments is driving transit calls along the west coast of Malaysia (Port Klang and Penang) and Thailand, followed by Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines.

Whilst call volumes were still well down on 2019, last year saw strong demand recovery with Singapore recording 279 turnarounds and its highest ever passenger numbers at 425,300, representing a penetration rate of 7.2% (versus 5.6% in 2019) placing it as number one globally, outlined Ted Blamey, principal CHART Management Consultants and moderator of  'Prospects & Recent Developemnts for Resurgence of Cruise in Asia: Southeast and South Asia' on the final day of Seatrade Cruise Asia Pacific 2023 in Hong Kong.

In setting the scene for the discussion he shared how during the pandemic and after, Royal Caribbean International and Resorts World Cruises have been spearheading year-round deployment out of Singapore with Norwegian Cruise Line returning to Asia next year and Disney Cruise Line set to arrive in 2025.

Lacking infrastructure for large ships

Angie Stephen, VP and MD Asia Pacific Royal Caribbean International, noted, 'there is huge potential across multiple Asian source markets to deploy more regional ships, especially with pressures surrounding geopolitical and capacity issues in some other regions.' But, she cautioned, 'very few ports can take the very large ships so we need more infrastructure.'

She called on private equity investors looking for opportunties to consider private island developments, citing Japan and the Philippines as two areas with potential.

Highlighting the need for more home and transit ports and destinations, Michael Goh, president of Resorts World Cruises, referenced 70% of calls from Singapore go to Malaysia and 70% out of Hong Kong go to Kaohsiung, Taiwan.

Stephen suggested more homeports could be developed in Southeast Asia — Singapore can be the Miami and Malaysia the Fort Lauderdale.

India rising

Turning to India, Blamey highlighted how as a source market it reached 201,200 passengers last year, similar to 2018 but 36% below the 2019 peak.

Cordelia Cruises has been builing deployment over three years with Empress operating more than 100 sailings in 2022 and about as man this year. Specifcially for the Indian market, the ship homeports in Mumbai January to May and October-December and from Chennai June to September. On cruises of typically two, three and four nights calls include Cochin, Goa, Colombo, Galle, Trincomalee and Kankasanturei.

Starting very soon, 3,780-passenger Costa Serena wil undertake 23 sailings from India November to January, from two to five days touching Mumbai, Cochin, Goa and Lakshadweep Islands. The ship is then moving to a 'pilot charter' with Hwajing from Port Klang, round-trips of two nights to Penang and three nights to Phuket.

Jasem Zaiton, marketing manager GAC Group, said the recent announcement exempting GST for international vessels cruising India's coastal route will have a signficant impact in attracting more cruise lines to India. 'Indians love to cruise and it's no secret that domestic cruises are focussed on cuisine and entertainment creating a home from home atmosphere,' he said.

Indian source market

The Indian source market remains an important one for both Royal Caribbean International and Resorts World Cruises with Stephen referencing it as 'one of our fastest growing on ex-Singapore cruises' and Goh calling it an important generater for MICE and FIT.'

Francesco Raffa, director of Asia region, growth markets and North Amercia at Costa Cruises, said, 'We see a clear vision of the government to create opportinities for cruise lines to bring ships to India.'

Asked what they would like to see by 2026, both Stephen and Goh seek more consistency and transparency across pan-Asia countries in their handling of the industry coupled with cruise-friendly policies; Zaiton expects 1m Indian cruisers will come sooner than 2027, and Raffa spoke for everyone by 'hoping for peace in the world.'

East Asia focus

A session looking at prospects for East Asia featured on Day 1 at Seatrade Cruise Asia Pacific. Read a summary here.