TSingapore Cruise Centerhe cruise industry in Southeast Asia is set to grow, with the region's countries committed to upgrading its cruise infrastructure as intra-regional demand for cruising within ASEAN rises, according to a statement from ASEAN Tourism.

Cruise lines are increasingly basing their ships in Southeast Asia which offers an ever more affluent market of 600 million people, heightened awareness and demand for cruising, greater intra-regional flight frequencies and streamlined airport-seaport connectivity.

Private and public sector cruise industry leaders convening for the 2nd annual Cruise Shipping Asia Pacific event, September 17-18, in Singapore, are upbeat.

"The wave of new and upcoming improvements in cruise infrastructure across ASEAN is a significant boost to the region's cruise industry," said Dr Liu Zinan, Managing Director, China and Asia, Royal Caribbean Cruises. "This is shown by our company's unprecedented number and size of ships here this year. With more developed ports here, which are essential for growing cruise markets and attractive itineraries, more international cruise operators like us will be drawn to ASEAN," he said.

Sepang in Malaysia, Subic in the Philippines, Benoa in Bali, Indonesia and Singapore are all being developed or upgraded to accommodate more cruise lines.

This year, the main infrastructure developments have been the new 28,000 square metre Marina Bay Cruise Centre Singapore which began operations in May 2012. It can accommodate the world's largest cruise ships and handle 6,800 passengers at one time. It now operates in tandem with the Singapore Cruise Centre which recently completed a US$11 million rejuvenation programme. In Indonesia, facilities at the port of Benoa in Bali are being expanded and upgraded. About 200 cruise ships will visit Indonesian ports this year, up from 100 ten years ago.

Major cruise lines have this year increased their presence in Southeast Asia or have sent larger ships on maiden calls to Singapore. They include Costa Cruises' Costa Deliziosa and Royal Caribbean's 311-metre, 137,276-ton, 14-passenger deck Voyager of the Seas, the largest cruise ship ever to homeport in Asia. Royal Caribbean's Celebrity Millennium will homeport in Singapore this year. The company's Mariner of the Seas, which is similar in size to Voyager, will also homeport there from 2013.

Additional cruise lines such as Star Cruises and Costa which also homeport out of Singapore, offer sailings to Kuala Lumpur, Langkawi, Redang, Penang and Malacca; Thailand's capital of Bangkok, Phuket and Koh Samui; Indonesia's Bali and Komodo Islands; and Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh, Danang and Ha Long Bay, among other ports in the ASEAN region.

Apart from better infrastructure and greater demand, cruise industry leaders scheduled to attend the event say the cruise business in Southeast Asia is also being boosted by ASEAN Tourism Ministers' commitment to the expansion of the sector. The Ministers are planning to tap into an increasingly affluent Southeast Asian market by launching 'ASEAN for ASEAN' cruise promotions.

ASEAN has many natural attributes that favour cruise development. There are more than 25,000 islands in the ASEAN region compared to about 7,000 in the Caribbean.

"The cruise boom in ASEAN is only just beginning," said Dato' Dr. Ong Hong Peng, Secretary General in Malaysia's Ministry of Tourism and Chairman of the ASEAN Product Development Working Group. "Building the human resources, knowledge and marketing skills for the cruise industry as well as the physical infrastructure is our new challenge," he said.

At the ASEAN Tourism Ministers' Meeting in Manado, Indonesia in January, the ministers pledged to further develop the cruise industry by supporting the organisation of cruise workshops, strengthening collaboration in joint marketing efforts, encouraging port infrastructure developments and developing new cruise itineraries along three cruise corridors: the Malacca Straits, Karimata Strait/Java Sea/Flores Sea, and South China Sea/Gulf of Thailand.

Since then, Indonesia has hosted an ASEAN Cruise Workshop in April. The event helped cruise industry stakeholders share best practices, develop regional itineraries and strengthen collaboration on port infrastructure expansion. Vietnam held a similar cruise workshop to discuss how the country's cruise development can be accelerated.

As Cruise Shipping Asia Pacific opens in Singapore, UBM, the organizers of the event, say that 63% of the exhibitors will be from ASEAN up from 46% last year. Demand for the travel agent cruise training workshop during the event has exceeded capacity.