Singapore's cruise industry faces headwinds

-- ST FILE PHOTO
-- ST FILE PHOTOST FILE PHOTO

Travel agents reluctant to send staff for training to sell packages

A reluctance amongst travel agents here to get staff trained to sell cruise packages could take the wind out of Singapore's bid to ride on a growing market, say industry players.

The National Association of Travel Agents Singapore (Natas) said it is a problem they hope to address by working with cruise companies to run networking and training sessions.

"Some agents do not yet realise the potential for growth and the importance of the cruise industry," said Natas chief operating officer Anita Tan in response to queries from The Straits Times.

There were about 1.2 million Asian cruise passengers in 2012, said the 2012 Cruise Industry News Annual Report, and this is expected to hit 3.7 million in 2017.

But high costs of training, high staff turnover and the view that cruise products are too complex to sell have put many agencies here off sending staff for classes.

Princess Cruises launched an online training school for travel agents here last May.

So far, only about 200 - out of about 1,100 licensed travel agencies here - have signed up, said its South East Asia director Farriek Tawfik.

The lack of training is not just a problem in Singapore, but across Asia where the industry is still in its infancy, he added.

Ms Mona Foo, Royal Caribbean Cruises (Asia) head of sales for Singapore, said: "A number of them still think that the cruise product is too complex, (as it involves) different ships, cabin categories and dining arrangements."

For agents, memorising the various routes and the differences between the ships is the hardest, said CTC Travel's marketing manager Kelly Loh.

"Agents have to "match each brand and ship to the different customer profile".

The Asia Cruise Association was set up in 2009 precisely to address the lack of training for frontline travel staff, said its general manager Kevin Leong.

The Singapore Tourism Board (STB) has also been organising an annual cruise workshop for the past three years to "discuss the opportunities that cruises can bring", said Ms Annie Chang, its deputy director of cruise.

It's not all bad though. At least the bigger agencies here, such as Dynasty Travel and Chan Brothers, have started specialised departments to sell cruise packages.

It has paid off so far.

At Chan Brothers, demand for regional cruises from here has gone up 30 per cent year-on-year since 2010.

Dynasty Travel has twice as many cruise-related enquiries and bookings since it set up a cruise department last November.

Its director of marking communications Alicia Seah said the agency aim to quadruple sales to $2 million this year.

Ultimately, said Mr Tawfik, if travel agents here are well trained in selling cruise deals, they can help Singapore draw more cruise operators.

"Training is a big thing which will improve the cruise industry," he added.

mellinjm@sph.com.sg