As Singapore is emerging as the hub of Southeast Asian cruising, much of its success can be attributed to the promotional efforts of the Singapore Tourist Promotion Board and the Port of Singapore Authority, along with Singapore's infrastructure and central location to other Southeast Asian ports. However, while Singapore and the rest of Southeast Asia are striving to attract more cruise ships, the region still has only seen a small increase in passenger counts.
"Singapore today can be compared to Miami 20 years ago," stated an optimistic Anders Stenersen, President of Seven Seas Cruises, which operates the 228-passenger Song of Flower out of Singapore.
In anticipation of growth is the construction of the Singapore Cruise Center which is due to open in late 1991.
In addition to the Western and Japanese cruise ships calling in Singapore and/or using Singapore as a homebase are Seven Seas Cruises, Heritage Cruise Line and Delfin Cruise which are headquartered in Singapore. Moreover, there are indications that Singapore's Neptune Orient Line (NOL) may also be entering the cruise business.
The new Singapore Cruise Center will feature a passenger terminal along with an extension to the pier which presently is composed of two berths for cruise ships. An L-shaped finger pier will be extended from the existing World Trade Center to provide two berths for passenger ships, measuring 803 and 525 feet each; a 492-foot berth for smaller ships will be constructed alongside the public waterfront promenade which is part of the overall development.
Facilities at the cruise center will include duty free shops, streamlined baggage handling, facilities for handicapped passengers, air-conditioned arrival and departure halls, and aerobridges which are connected to the already existing World Trade Center, with its international banking and telecommunication services, restaurants, and shops.
The volume of flights handled by Singapore's Changi airport is growing along with the port. In 1989, there was a 15.3 percent increase in the number of scheduled passenger flights. A second airport is slated for completion later next year.
Singapore not only promotes its infrastructure but also its proximity to other ports in Southeast Asia. In fact, Singapore is one of six countries which together form ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations). The other five countries include: Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand.
The national tourist boards and port authorities of ASEAN have banded together to jointly promote cruising in Southeast Asia, along with assisting potential cruise lines new to the area in planning Southeast Asian itineraries.
Besides visibly participating in the major cruise industry trade shows, the six nations have jointly produced the Asean Cruise Directory as a way to introduce cruise lines to the region. The 56-page booklet includes a map and a separate section devoted to each country. Information listed includes background on the location, climate, language, shopping, travel requirements, and a brief description of each destination city. Port services are detailed along with contact information.
As a supplement to this, the Singapore Tourist Promotion Board publishes a 12-page newsletter, Singapore Travel News, which provides updated news on travel and cruising in Singapore and the region.
Another way in which the Southeast Asian cruise market will be able to continue promoting the area is through the Seatrade Asia Pacific Convention which is slated to be held in Singapore in November, 1991.
Although Singapore's 1989 passenger count of 59,078 was about 5,000 less than the previous year, the number of ships calling here increased from 23 in 1988 to 30 in 1989.
According to the Singapore Tourist Promotion Board the decrease in passenger numbers was due to the withdrawal of a regional ferry service. While the 1989 passengers counts were down, the Port Authority is optimistic about 1990 figures. From January to May of this year, there has been a 12 percent increase in cruise ship calls in Singapore and a seven percent increase in passengers calling.
Western cruise ships callingg in Singapore this year include: Cunard Lines' OE2; Sagafjord: Sea Goddess II and the Vistafjord; Pearl Cruises' Ocean Pearl; Princess Cruises' Sea Princess; Renaissance Cruises' Renaissance I; Royal Viking Line's Royal Viking Sea; and Society Expeditions' World Discoverer. Of these, the Ocean Pearl, Renaissance I, and the World Discoverer tend to call more frequently.
Some of the regionally-based cruise vessels calling in Singapore in 1990 include Japanese-based Mitsui OSK's Fuji-Maru, which is being marketed primarily to the Japanese.
East vs. West
Most of the cruises in this area which cater primarily to Americans are generally at least 14 days or longer. The average passenger tends to be the sophisticated traveler who is interested in culture. Far Eastern cruises tend to also attract an older audience. According to the Singapore Port Authority, 37 percent of the cruise passengers calling here are Americans, 24 percent are Europeans, and 24 percent are Asians.
Most cruises in this area which are mainly marketed to Japanese or Asians tend to be much shorter. According to Stenersen, this past year all cruises were seven days whereas next season Seven Seas Cruises will offer four and five-day cruises to cater more to the Japanese who usually take seven days off for vacation in total.
Seven Seas Cruises' Song of Flower (formerly the Explorer Starship) homeports out of Singapore from October to April, when she is repositioned to Vancouver for Alaska cruises.
While the Far Eastern cruise market continues to show signs of growth, there are a number of challenges which potential cruise lines have to face. The North American market potential is limited since Far Eastern cruises demand a greater commitment of time and money on behalf of the passengers. And while economically, there is a growing regional cruise market in the Far East - Japan in particular - the notion of a cruise seems to be more foreign to Asians than to Americans. That means that passengers first have to be sold on the idea of cruising.
While Asean has been active in promoting its destinations, it is still an often difficult task trying to communicate with a number of the ports in this area. Those that are less westernized are not easy to reach even though they offer phone and fax numbers. While the area has much to offer cruise lines and their passengers, the first step towards this is continued refinement of communication.
This is where Singapore plays such an important role.