Cruises from Singapore may make at least one or two ports of call by year end: STB

Compared to air travel, cruises seem to be recovering at a slower pace. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE- While cruising to nowhere is likely to remain the norm for most of this year, the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) is working to set up a few ports of call by year end.

Popular destinations being considered include Bali in Indonesia, as well as Port Klang and Penang in Malaysia. Phuket in Thailand had also been revealed earlier as a possible destination.

This comes after more than a year of cruises to nowhere, with STB targeting to set up at least one or two ports of call by the end of this year.

Compared to air travel, cruises seem to be recovering at a slower pace. But resuming ports of call, which has not been allowed since cruising resumed in November 2020, is not easy and requires detailed planning, said STB's director of cruise Annie Chang.

Giving some details on the process of setting up such calls, Ms Chang said measures like mask-wearing and Covid-19 testing protocols need to be standardised among the countries that the cruise intends to stop at.

She was speaking to reporters while onboard a media preview of Royal Caribbean International's new ship here, Spectrum of the Seas, last Saturday (April 2).

The new ship, the largest in Asia, will be replacing its current ship, Quantum of the Seas, from April 11. It will be welcoming the cruise line's first international guests here since Covid-19.

Citing some examples, Ms Chang said the question of whether cruise passengers entering Phuket would need to take up Covid-19 travel insurance is being discussed by both authorities.

Indonesia also requires international travellers to undergo a polymerase chain reaction test before they can enter the country.

Such testing is unlikely to work because of the logistics and time involved, as ports of call tend to last only about six to eight hours before passengers have to return to the ship, said Ms Chang.

Ideally, passengers should only have to take one Covid-19 test before boarding the cruise, without having to take additional tests when stopping at various ports during the cruise, she added.

Pre-cruise testing, which is mandated by Royal Caribbean for all its passengers here on their day of boarding, is also likely to remain in the near future, said Ms Angie Stephen, Asia-Pacific vice-president and managing director of Royal Caribbean.

This is despite Singapore authorities looking to scrap pre-departure testing in the coming weeks.

All of Royal Caribbean's crew are also still undergoing weekly supervised antigen tests, even after rostered routine testing for all sectors here are no longer needed.

Ms Stephen said: "We follow what the Ministry of Health prescribes, but sometimes we take it to a higher level because we are an enclosed environment. It creates a safe bubble experience because everyone that you are onboard with have been tested and vaccinated, including our crew."

Such stringent measures will give Singapore leverage when it negotiates with other regional governments on port-of-call arrangements, added Ms Chang.

Ms Chang also believes that cruising will soon catch up with the vaccinated travel framework in place, and that the authorities may be more open to making plans for niche tourism markets like cruises once air connectivity has been restored.

The simplified travel rules will also complement cruises here, which, pre-Covid-19, saw about 70 per cent of passengers from the fly-cruise segment.

Ports of call, especially to neighbouring countries, would be a huge boost to Royal Caribbean, which aims to capture more of the nascent Asian cruise market.

Since Covid-19, about 75 per cent of its passengers are new guests. Those new to cruising tend to prefer shorter cruises of about three to four nights.

Ms Stephen said: "We did (longer cruises pre-pandemic) but I think our core programme now is focusing closer to home because we want to get more new people to try cruising."

Royal Caribbean International's new ship here, Spectrum of the Seas, will be replacing its current ship, Quantum of the Seas, from April 11, 2022. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

Some Covid-19 rules for Royal Caribbean cruises here:

  • Supervised antigen rapid test on the day of boarding for all passengers
  • Supervised antigen rapid test weekly for all crew
  • Those who recovered from Covid-19 within seven days not allowed on board
  • 75 per cent capacity for all sailings
  • Land safety measures also apply on board, such as wearing of masks indoors and group sizes of up to 10 people allowed.

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