By Lee Kah Wai Singapore, July 11 (ANI): Cruise ships based in Singapore have started calling at ports in neighboring countries in July. This is the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world and temporarily closed international cruises.

The first ports of call were Royal Caribbean’s Spectrum of the Seas and Resorts World Cruises’ Genting Dream, which docked at Port Klang in Malaysia and the islands of Batam and Bintan in Indonesia, respectively. Both cruise ships are based in Singapore.

Just before COVID-19, Singapore’s cruise industry, and the cruise segment in particular, saw explosive growth. In 2018, Singaporean cruise lines reported 25 percent year-on-year growth from Indian tourists. In 2017, around 127,000 Indians boarded one of the many luxury cruise lines that docked in Singapore and took passengers on a pampering journey to various Southeast Asian destinations such as Penang, Phuket and beyond. Many of them are on the cruise line.

Various cruise lines, including Princess Cruise, Genting and Dream Cruise (predecessor brands of Resorts World Cruises), Royal Caribbean and Costa, have taken advantage of Singapore’s position as a regional hub to establish their base in Southeast Asia. In 2019, more than 19 million people visited Singapore. In the cruise industry in 2019, there were over 1.82 million passengers and 414 port calls. More than 400 cruise ships from 30 cruise brands called in Singapore in 2019.

Singapore received 959,000 foreign visitors this year, with about half, or 418,000, arriving in May, the latest month for which data was available from the Singapore Tourism Board (STB).

Indians are the second largest nationality in terms of visitors to Singapore since the start of this year with 154,700 arrivals. Indonesians make up the largest group with 171,400, while Malaysians come in third with 88,800 travelers arriving on the island. Conspicuously missing from this data are the Chinese, who made up the largest group of visitors, as their country is one of the few that has kept its borders closed. More than 3.63 million Chinese tourists arrived in Singapore in the last travel year before COVID-19 brought the tourism industry to its knees.

STB said Singapore plans to resume its strong streak of cruise ship deployments, taking advantage of its strategic location, world-class air connectivity and excellent port infrastructure. It also works with cruise lines to expand its customer base. Besides neighboring Indonesia and Malaysia, they are eyeing cruise passengers from other countries such as India, Australia, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Once Singapore reopens to all vaccinated visitors, the air cruise segment is expected to recover significantly and is an area of ​​focus for STB, which has identified it as a key growth area. Before COVID-19, 70 percent of Singapore’s cruise passengers were foreign visitors traveling to Singapore to take a cruise to explore Southeast Asia and other countries in the region. The high demand for the cruise segment will increase the attractiveness of Singapore as a home port for cruise lines.

To prepare for the return of cruise passengers, STB will continue to offer the Cruise Development Fund to encourage cruise lines to homeport in Singapore. Cruise agents can also use this grant to develop and sell cruise packages. Through these partnerships, STB helps cruise agents launch effective marketing campaigns to promote sailings from Singapore and showcase attractive cruise and land experiences, in turn attracting more travelers and new cruises to Singapore.

During the border closures due to COVID-19, Singaporeans stranded on their tiny island have been using cruises as a way to leave home and find a vacation spot. Since Singapore resumed cruises in November 2020, more than half a million passengers have taken nearly 370 cruises to nowhere. Many of them are beginners. With more ships offering a variety of cruise itineraries from Southeast Asia, first-timers are expected to support the industry’s strong recovery.

Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia are the first countries in Southeast Asia to resume port calls after the suspension of cruises in March 2020. Coupled with positive discussions about resuming similar calls in more ports and the harmonization of sanitary protocols across the region, STB expects the cruise industry in Singapore to return to pre-pandemic levels between 2023 and 2024.

“The resumption of port calls is an important milestone for Singapore and the region,” said Mr Keith Tan, Chief Executive Officer of STB. “This is made possible by ASEAN’s strong partnership and collective commitment to developing the cruise industry. Cruises are a key driver of tourism and as ASEAN’s leading cruise development coordinator, Singapore will continue to work with our colleagues to strengthen the region’s appeal as a cruise destination and origin market.

“The return of cruises to destinations is timely as countries in the region reopen to visitors, rebuild their tourism sectors and embrace a new normal. Our cruises already have so much to offer with technologically advanced ships and an ever-expanding range of first-at-sea activities on board. We look forward to developing more exciting itineraries for our guests in this region,” said Ms. Angie Stephen, Vice President and Managing Director, Asia Pacific, Royal Caribbean International.

“We are committed to the vision of Singapore as a major cruise hub in Asia. Together with STB, we look forward to the development of the cruise sector, including the 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. (ANI)

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