Riding a new wave of long-haul cruises

As Singaporeans become more affluent and well-travelled, a growing number are opting for a different way to revisit familiar spots - via long-haul cruises.

Such cruise holidays, typically more than seven nights long, usually attract retirees, couples on honeymoon or families during the school holidays.

Popular itineraries include those with stops at multiple cities in East Asia such as Hong Kong, Tokyo, Taipei and Kaohsiung.

These places are in addition to traditional destinations such as Alaska, Russia, Scandinavia and the Mediterranean.

Bookings for long-haul cruises have risen by between 10 and 51 per cent year-on-year, said cruise companies and travel agencies, and new itineraries have been launched to tap the growing market.

For instance, CTC Travel recently introduced an 86-night world cruise leaving Shanghai on March 1. It covers more than 15 countries, including the Maldives, Egypt and Japan.

Prices start from $25,288.

"We have a couple of bookings, with enquiries being quite constant," said CTC Travel's vice-president of marketing and public relations Sylvia Tan.

Dynasty Travel, which set up a centre at its office this year to cater to cruise-related queries, offers a cruise along the River Rhine next year.

The river runs through several European cities.

Prices range from $6,068 to $9,168, including airfare and shore excursions.

The package is not available to the public yet, but more than 40 of the 65 cabins have been snapped up by the agency's VIP members.

The convenience of cruising is its key selling point, said Dynasty Travel's director of marketing communications Alicia Seah.

"The cost of the River Rhine cruise is all inclusive - accommodation, food, drinks, gratuities - so guests do not have to worry about out-of-pocket expenses while on board."

Silversea Cruises' regional director for Asia Melvyn Yap attributed the growing demand to the emergence of cash-rich, timepoor travellers who have little time to plan a long-haul holiday by themselves.

"Cruises also enable travellers to take in a number of destinations in one trip and to experience a wide array of activities without the hassle of packing and unpacking," he added.

Retired banker Jennifer Foo, 65, turned to cruises in 2006 after a bad holiday experience in South America the year before.

She lost several items while repacking to fit the baggage allowance for her flight home.

"Because of that experience, I tried cruising, and I was hooked. I don't need to keep packing and unpacking on a cruise," she said.

Since then, she has been on more than 10 cruise holidays with her husband, semi-retired businessman William Foo, 67.

They fork out an average of $5,000 per person for each trip.

Industry players are optimistic that more Singaporeans will take to long-haul cruising as more international cruise liners take in Japan, a perennial favourite destination among Singapore visitors.

In April, Royal Caribbean launched a 10-night cruise from Singapore to Tokyo, calling at Hong Kong, Taiwan and Nagasaki along the way.

Citystate Travel executive director Albert Ho said his firm has seen modest growth in the sales of its Japan cruise itineraries.

"The Japanese domestic ports are easily reached by cruise ships, and travelling between these ports by ship is generally cheaper than taking domestic flights," he said.

"The potential for more growth is tremendous."

This article was first published on December 16, 2014.
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