Bookings for cruises not hard hit despite launch of vaccinated travel lanes

Besides having no ports of call, cruise lines must adhere to other measures, such as sailing at reduced capacity and catering only to Singapore residents. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - It is still smooth sailing for cruises here even after Singapore launched several vaccinated travel lanes (VTLs) with other countries.

These cruises, which still have no ports of call amid the Covid-19 pandemic, have seen little to no impact from the VTLs, which have encouraged some people to rush to get air tickets after almost two years of border restrictions.

Ms Angie Stephen, vice-president and managing director for the Asia-Pacific at Royal Caribbean International, said the company's cruises to nowhere are fully booked for the rest of the year, and trips for next year are selling fast.

"If there's anything we've observed in the past year, it's the surge in repeat cruisers, as well as a significant increase in new-to-cruise guests," she said, adding that Singapore has proven to be a fast-growing market even in the absence of cruises to destinations.

Only two cruise lines have been allowed to operate cruises to nowhere here - Royal Caribbean's Quantum of the Seas, and Dream Cruises' World Dream, which is managed by Genting Cruise Lines.

Apart from having no ports of call, these cruise lines must adhere to measures such as sailing at reduced capacity and catering only to Singapore residents.

Singapore has announced VTLs with 21 countries thus far, and some - such as those with Britain and the United States - have already started.

Dream Cruises has seen "minimal impact" in the form of booking cancellations since early last month, when the first few VTLs started, said its president Michael Goh.

Mr Goh, who is also head of international sales at Genting Cruise Lines, said its cruises for this month and next are almost sold out. World Dream is also seeing strong demand for the first quarter of next year, he added.

The expansion of the domestic market is fuelling this demand, with new segments such as expatriates and couples becoming more receptive to cruising.

Mr Robert Hecker, Asia-Pacific managing director for hospitality consultancy Horwath HTL, said it is still too early to tell if cruise passenger numbers have been impacted by the VTLs.

"There is fairly limited capacity on the VTLs and airfares are rather high," he said.

"In a way, the travel restrictions have created a positive for the cruise industry - many people have gone cruising for the first time because it was the only choice, besides hotel staycations."

The renewed interest in cruises has contributed to a market expansion and may pave the way for smaller cruise lines to enter the fray with specialised itineraries and themes catering to a specific segment of people.

A restaurant on board the World Dream cruise ship. PHOTO: ST FILE

Both Royal Caribbean International and Genting Cruise Lines said the VTLs are a good step, presenting opportunities for them to welcome tourists from overseas.

Before Covid-19, about 70 per cent of cruise passengers were from the fly-cruise segment, where people fly into Singapore to take a cruise and explore the region.

Some of the top cruise destinations from Singapore included Bangkok in Thailand and Langkawi, Penang and Port Klang in Malaysia.

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