Navigating the waters to unlock potential in cruising

Navigating the waters to unlock potential in cruising

When pundits at a cruise industry conference last month hailed the region as the next frontier for growth, hardly an eyelid batted in the audience.

The general sentiment: Yes, there is potential. But how do you harness it?

Asean was earmarked as a cruise haven as far back as 1991, when then Senior Minister of State (Trade and Industry) Lim Boon Heng held it up as a potential second year-round cruise destination after the Caribbean. That same year, the first international cruise ship - the Royal Odyssey - dropped anchor at the newly opened Singapore Cruise Centre (SCC) at HarbourFront.

The region's cruising potential has since been cited so often that it is starting to sound like a broken record.

A look at numbers

THE number of cruise passengers visiting Singapore has been growing annually at an average rate of 6.5 per cent over the past decade, hitting 913,000 last year. A closer look, however, shows this growth has not been uniform. The figures peaked at 1,139,000 in 2009 and have been falling steadily since.

The Singapore Tourism Board puts the drop down to the demise of several gaming ships after the two integrated resorts opened here in 2010. These cruise-to-nowhere ships - arguably a different market - used to make year-round calls at the cruise terminal, propping up the numbers.

But the number of ship calls has not recovered. There were only 332 last year, down from 926 in 2009.

The demise of year-round cruise ships, save for the SuperStar Virgo at the SCC, and the inability to attract new ones, have stymied growth and rendered the trade largely seasonal. The peak season is from October to March, when liners sail from the Northern Hemisphere during winter months.

As a result, berths here - especially those at Marina Bay Cruise Centre Singapore (MBCCS) - are underutilised in non-peak months.

Bottleneck issues - such as a lack of cabs and lengthy waits at immigration checkpoints - arise during peak periods.

Simultaneously, terminal operators grapple with the question: How much manpower and infrastructure should one invest in if the terminal is busy only for a few months of the year?

The ultimate goal, of course, is to become a year-round cruise hub.

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