The latest entry in the Far East cruise market is Metro Holdings of Singapore, which will position its start-up cruise venture, Sun Cruises, as a product for Asians as well as international travelers, according to Sun Cruises' vice president of sales and marketing Chris Bailey.

Metro Holdings made news earlier this year when it purchased Celebrity Cruises' 1,318-passenger Meridian for $62 million. In August, Metro finalized an agreement for the purchase of its second ship, the 114-passenger Renaissance V, from Nuovo Iniziative Armatoriali Sicilia for $15 million. The Renaissance V is currently operated by Renaissance Cruises.

Sun Cruises will take delivery of the ships in October and November, respectively.

Thus, in 1998 Sun Cruises will have about 175,000 available beds in the Far East market, making it the second largest cruise player in that region.

While Sun Cruises expects to deploy the Meridian - to be renamed the Sun Vista - on two distinct programs, the smaller vessel, which becomes the Sun Viva, will be solely for corporate events and charters.


Current plans call for the Sun Vista to conduct short two-night cruises on the weekends for Asian passengers and longer Monday-to-Friday sailings for her international customers, noted Bailey.

Ports of call for the longer itineraries, which depart roundtrip from Singapore, include Penang, Phuket and Kuala Lumpur.

Sun Cruises expects the majority of American and European passengers to purchase the Sun Vista cruises as part of complete air/land/cruise packages, said Bailey, although he envisions fly/cruise business to come from closer areas such as Australia, the Middle East and India, for instance. Bailey also anticipates a significant amount of incentive and group/charter business from the U.S.

Toward this end, the line has signed agreements with a number of major global tour operators and incentive houses. "We see our cruises as a component of an overall multi-week Asian holiday," said Bailey, adding that he also anticipates a significant amount of incentive and charter/group business from the U.S.

Sun Cruises will take possession of the Sun Vista after a hand-over inspection at Newport News. At that time, several hundred workers will board the vessel, according to Bailey. to prepare the ship for her month-long, multi-million refurbishment at Seambawang Shipyard starting October 18.

The Sun Vista's flrst revenue cruise is scheduled for November 28.

In part, the refurbishment calls for: a refit of the existing Four Seasons restaurant to include breakfast and lunch buffet service, thus lowering the seating capacity from 650 to 550; the installation of a champagne/cigar/wine bar; the addition of a new library; and the outfitting of a new entertainment center. Also planned is the expansion of crew quarters to encompass existing passenger cabins that feature third and fourth berths.

Thus, the ship's capacity will be lowered from 1,318 to 1,084. And with a crew contingent of 700, the Sun Vista will boast a 1.5-to-1 crew-to-passenger ratio.

Ship's Crew

As for ship staffing, Sun Cruises will retain the ship's Greek deck and engine officers at least for the inaugural season, noted Bailey, to ensure continuity. Some key hotel management people will also travel to Singapore to train newly hired hotel personnel, including European hotel management staff and service staff from Thailand, the Philippines, Eastern Europe and China.

Bailey confirmed the line expects to grow its fleet further, although he could not say to what extent.

"We will grow as large as need be to achieve economies of scale in our operation," he said, adding that Metro looked for a ship for one year before finding the Meridian, which is in excellent shape.

Bailey also predicted possible opportunities for Sun Cruises to place vessels in other major Far East cities that are currently major gateways with sufficient airlift.

Sun Cruises is a joint venture between Metro Holdings - a property and retail conglomerate - and Sembawang Maritime. Also involved as a minority shareholder is Dennis Choo, owner of Tour East, a destination management company, and of a network of retail agencies situated throughout Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Hong Kong.

It is seems that Sun Cruises is positioning itself for a head-to-head battle with star Cruises for marker share both on the domestic and international fronts as Sun Cruises looks to expand irs fleet and program reach.

A most curious detail of the new venture is that Bailey previously worked at Airtours. which is charting great success with irs cruise division and which is also called Sun Cruises.