SINGAPORE - Cruise holidays are set to make bigger waves, with cruise sailings between Singapore and Phuket in Thailand possible by the third quarter of this year.
Mr Alexander Lim, first secretary of the Singapore embassy in Thailand, and the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) confirmed that discussions are ongoing with Thai authorities to resume port calls at the popular beach destination.
They said discussions are ongoing with the Thai authorities.
A Bangkok Post article last week suggested that tourists using the lane would need to show only an antigen rapid test (ART) result taken within 24 hours of departure and be fully vaccinated.
The number of passengers for each cruise is also likely to be capped, although plans are yet to be approved by Thailand's Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration.
In pre-pandemic 2019, cruise sailings from Singapore ferried more than 250,000 international passengers to Thailand in 110 ships, roughly about a fifth of total cruise ship calls to Thailand that year.
The close links between the two ports make the lane particularly important as Singapore seeks to resume port calls for cruise vessels to re-anchor its regional cruise hub status and as Thailand attempts to revive its tourism sector, which before Covid-19 contributed about a fifth of its economy.
In Phuket itself, the impact of Covid-19 has been even more dire. Tourism accounts for more than 90 per cent of the southern Thai island's economy and employment. It is known for sandy beaches, low-cost nightlife and historic Sino-Portuguese townhouses in its old town.
In its reply, STB reiterated that it is working with several other Asean countries to resume port calls, aimed at restarting later this year.
The aim now is to hammer out and harmonise cruise standards so that multiple port calls can be made on a single trip, a feature that has always been the major draw for such cruises.
Malaysia is another key destination, with shore excursions to Langkawi, Penang and Port Klang (near Kuala Lumpur) much sought-after.
In 2020, Singapore had just 410,000 cruise ship passengers, compared with 1.8 million in 2019.
All port stops are currently still not allowed, and the curtailed capacity and reduced draw of cruises with no stops have led only to a very limited recovery.
Royal Caribbean International, which has already begun selling tickets on cruises later this year that stop at Penang, Port Klang and Phuket, said ports of call are important as travellers want to explore different cultures in addition to enjoying the ship's amenities at sea.
"The possibility of adding destinations back into our itineraries is incredibly exciting for us, and we look forward to partnering with the Singapore and Asian governments on these plans," its spokesman said.