FULL STEAM AHEAD

Once per­ceived as float­ing re­tire­ment homes, cruise ships to­day have shat­tered the “bridge and bingo” stereo­type to of­fer a di­verse range of lux­u­ri­ous trips aboard lav­ishly ap­pointed ves­sels, writes Tam­sin Cocks

Business Traveller (Asia-Pacific) - - CON­TENTS -

Busi­ness is boom­ing for cruise com­pa­nies in Asia-Pa­cific as de­mand grows for lux­ury ves­sels with in­creas­ingly ex­cit­ing fa­cil­i­ties and travel itin­er­ar­ies

Cruis­ing is a multi-bil­lion dol­lar in­dus­try – and grow­ing fast. Ac­cord­ing to the Cruise Line In­ter­na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion (CLIA), de­mand for cruis­ing in­creased 62 per cent be­tween 2005 and 2015, with a record­break­ing 24 mil­lion pas­sen­gers glob­ally in 2016.

For multi-des­ti­na­tion travel, cruis­ing of­fers three key – you un­pack once, and then the ship moves you to the scenery and itin­er­ar­ies can eas­ily be ad­justed to com­pen­sate for newly emerg­ing risk zones (Is­tan­bul, for ex­am­ple, has been tem­po­rar­ily dropped from the itin­er­ar­ies of Nor­we­gian Cruise Line and oth­ers). And third, – whether guests are in the bud­get or the lux­ury sec­tor, added-ex­tras that you would typ­i­cally pur­chase in a ho­tel (such as food, drink and en­ter­tain­ment) are of­ten in­cluded in the price.

Typ­i­cally, Caribbean or Mediter­ranean-bound ves­sels have dom­i­nated the cruise scene with a more West­ern clien­tele, but all eyes to the US and Europe in terms of in­ter­est and in­fra­struc­ture,” says Steve Odell, se­nior vice pres­i­dent and man­ag­ing direc­tor Asia Hold­ings. “But now ev­ery­body sees big po­ten­tial here. At the mo­ment there are roughly two mil­lion pas­sen­gers, but the

De­spite lin­ger­ing per­cep­tions, driven by the older gen­er­a­tions. Gleam­ing new su­per ships are tar­get­ing a younger, so­phis­ti­cated de­mo­graphic with cruise com­pa­nies scram­bling over each at-sea” en­ter­tain­ment ex­pe­ri­ences and lux­ury mod­ern of­fer­ings to this emerg­ing cus­tomer.

NEW VES­SELS FOR NEW MAR­KETS

“China is cer­tainly the en­gine Odell, “and the Chi­nese cruiser look­ing in the 35-45 bracket for more tech­nol­ogy, vir­tual reality, games and out­door fa­cil­i­ties.”

Launch­ing this year, the new 3,840-guest Nor­we­gian Joy has youth­ful Chi­nese de­mo­graphic,

with a com­pet­i­tive go-kart track, open-air laser tag course, sim­u­la­tor rides, hov­er­craft bumper cars, a state-of-the-art rac­ing sim­u­la­tor and two mul­ti­storey wa­ter­slides. In re­cent years Royal Caribbean has wel­comed two brand-new ships –

Quan­tum of the Seas and Ova­tion of the Seas – both of which will have their home­ports in Chi­nese cities (Shang­hai and Tian­jin re­spec­tively). On board is the trade­mark North Star at­trac­tion – a jewel-shaped cap­sule ris­ing 300 feet (91 me­tres) into the air that of­fers the “high­est view­ing deck on a cruise ship” ac­cord­ing to the Guin­ness Book of Records.

Home-grown ships are also adding ground­break­ing op­tions, such as Gent­ing Hong Kong’s Dream Cruises brand, “the first-ever Asian lux­ury cruise line”. Its flag­ship ves­sel Gent­ing Dream launched in Novem­ber 2016, with home­ports in Guangzhou and Hong Kong, and a sec­ond sis­ter ship, World Dream, is sched­uled to make her maiden voy­age this year. The new mega ship of­fers 1,100 sqm of lux­ury retail space; 142 deluxe cabin suites with but­ler ser­vice and pri­vate pool; 35 res­tau­rant and bar con­cepts, in­clud­ing Zouk night­club and a pool party area; six wa­ter­slides; three spas, in­clud­ing cos­metic of­fer­ings from botox to skin light­en­ing; two sub­marines and one “mer­maid acad­emy”.

“We de­signed the ship es­sen­tially as a float­ing, in­te­grated lux­ury re­sort, and we are con­fi­dent that

Gent­ing Dream will make her mark as the new­est ‘must-ex­pe­ri­ence’ va­ca­tion at­trac­tion,” says Thatcher Brown, pres­i­dent of Dream Cruises. “We aim to be a pace­set­ter in the re­gion, meet­ing the needs of the emerg­ing gen­er­a­tion of con­fi­dent, in­de­pen­dently minded and af­flu­ent Asian trav­ellers.”

Smaller ships, cater­ing to the high-end lux­ury mar­kets, are also see­ing a healthy ap­petite in the re­gion, and tai­lor­ing their of­fer­ings to match. For ex­am­ple, the new ul­tra-lux­ury ship from Sil­versea,

Sil­ver Muse, is sched­uled to set sail this year and re­cently launched a ded­i­cated Chi­nese web­site. “China is a key mar­ket for Sil­versea and we see in­creas­ing de­mand for high­qual­ity travel ser­vices, in­dul­gent sur­round­ings and more ex­otic des­ti­na­tions,” says Am­ber Wil­son, gen­eral man­ager and direc­tor sales and mar­ket­ing, Asia Pa­cific.

PRO­VI­SIONS FOR ASIAN PALATES

When cater­ing to an Asian cus­tomer, F&B quickly jumps up the pri­or­ity list. For­get des­ig­nated meal­times at hor­ri­bly over­crowded meal halls; cruises these days of­fer “six-star” ser­vice, fine-din­ing and ded­i­cated F&B ex­pe­ri­ences.

Nor­we­gian Cruise Line claims credit for in­tro­duc­ing the idea of a “freestyle” ap­proach to din­ing when­ever and wher­ever guests choose, and has taken this one step fur­ther aboard its new ship

Nor­we­gian Joy. “We’ve done a lot of work on cui­sine,” says Odell. “The ship has 29 res­tau­rants and we’ve de­signed these for lo­cal tastes with a mix of re­gional and Eu­ro­pean cui­sine. The younger gen­er­a­tion are used to hav­ing lots of choice and are much more ad­ven­tur­ous than their par­ents and grand­par­ents.”

On Gent­ing Dream, a host of “first-at-sea” ex­pe­ri­ences are avail­able for epi­curean tastes. This in­cludes the first ever John­nie Walker House, with men­tor­ing and ed­u­ca­tion from brand am­bas­sadors along with cu­rated tast­ing ses­sions. Wine lovers, mean­while, can head for the Pen­fold Wine Vault and sam­ple an ex­ten­sive ar­ray of rare Aus­tralian vin­tages. In the su­per-lux­ury do­main, Crys­tal

Sym­phony is renowned for its allinclu­sive fine-din­ing model, where guests can se­lect from an à la carte menu and en­joy pre­mium wines, all ac­com­pa­nied by sil­ver ser­vice. Din­ing ex­pe­ri­ences also in­clude world­fa­mous cui­sine from master chef Nobuyuki “Nobu” Mat­suhisa at Silk Road and the Sushi Bar.

EX­PLOR­ING THE RE­GION

With all the bells and whis­tles, it’s al­most easy to for­get about itin­er­ar­ies, but of course this is a cru­cial part of the ex­pe­ri­ence. Blessed with in­com­pa­ra­ble cul­tural and nat­u­ral di­ver­sity, Asia is fi­nally gain­ing at­ten­tion not just as a source mar­ket, but as a pre­mium cruis­ing ground. “Asia has nat­u­ral ap­peal for the cruise in­dus­try. It’s a beau­ti­ful part of the world, with a great cul­ture of ser­vice,” says Odell.

“Ja­pan is par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant in re­gional de­vel­op­ment, be­cause it’s per­haps one of the more dif­fi­cult places to nav­i­gate if you don’t speak Ja­panese. A cruise can pro­vide a very easy and ef­fi­cient way of get­ting around that big coun­try and see­ing all the beau­ti­ful things it has to of­fer.

“The other ris­ing des­ti­na­tion is the Philip­pines, be­cause this has not al­ways been con­sid­ered the safest place to travel in the re­gion. But the Philip­pines gov­ern­ment has de­vel­oped a cruise plan and they’re open­ing up a lot more re­gional ports in the na­tional parks.”

The main prob­lem fac­ing the Asia-Pa­cific re­gion is in­fra­struc­ture. Places like Pa­pua New Guinea of­fer beau­ti­ful coastal scenery, but a to­tal lack of port fa­cil­i­ties, which re­stricts the ap­peal. Hong Kong is one of the more ma­ture mar­kets and re­cently un­veiled the pre­mium Kai Tak Cruise Ter­mi­nal. But while it’s adept at pro­cess­ing thou­sands of pas­sen­gers, get­ting to and from the ter­mi­nal is still prob­lem­atic, and will re­main so un­til the planned MTR ex­ten­sion opens in 2019. Un­til then, lux­ury ships still gen­er­ally opt for the more cen­trally lo­cated Ocean Ter­mi­nal in Tsim Sha Tsui.

Cru­cially though, the key is co­or­di­nated re­gional de­vel­op­ment – a home­port is only as strong as its neigh­bours, as the ship needs some­where else to go.“The Hong Kong and Sin­ga­pore tourism boards have been huge driv­ers in cre­at­ing cruise in­ter­est in the re­gion,” says Odell.“They know that if they cre­ate a cruise hub they bring peo­ple who spend money in the re­gion. They’ve been very for­ward-look­ing and are also try­ing to en­gage all the coun­tries around them.”

The ef­forts are start­ing to pay off. In March, Star Cruises an­nounced the de­but triple home­port de­ploy­ment of its flag­ship Su­per­star Virgo in Hong Kong, Manila and Kaoh­si­ung, op­er­at­ing the “Jewels of the South China Sea”itin­er­ary – an in­dus­try first.

“We are very ex­cited,”said An­thony Lau, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB).“This de­ploy­ment re­flects the ef­fec­tive­ness of Asia Cruise Co­op­er­a­tion in en­hanc­ing the de­vel­op­ment of cruise tourism in the re­gion.”Dream Cruises’ Brown also agrees co­or­di­na­tion is the way for­ward: “It wasn’t that long ago that cruise brands first en­tered the Asian mar­ket, but now that the in­dus­try is boom­ing, all of the cruise brands need to grow to­gether.”

De­vel­op­ing itin­er­ar­ies for the young Asian cruiser in­volves other cul­tural quirks that need to be con­sid­ered, ex­plains Odell.“Hol­i­day time in Asia-Pa­cific is gen­er­ally quite short, peo­ple are look­ing at 5-7 days max­i­mum. A longer Eu­ro­pean trip is nor­mally quite a chal­leng­ing thing to sell, es­pe­cially for the more main­stream mar­ket.”

How­ever, longer world-cruise itin­er­ar­ies are start­ing to find favour with the Chi­nese cus­tomer. In 2015, Costa Asia launched China’s first “Around-The-World Cruise”, tak­ing Chi­nese guests on a voy­age to 28 des­ti­na­tions as it cir­cum­nav­i­gated the globe. Now, the cruise com­pany has launched a 46-day cruise to the South Pa­cific is­lands, open­ing an­other route for China’s grow­ing cruise fan base.

FORG­ING NEW CHAN­NELS

While on­board of­fer­ings are burst­ing with ex­cit­ing em­bel­lish­ments, the cruise in­dus­try is also di­ver­si­fy­ing away from sea­far­ing jaunts to river cruises, Arc­tic ex­plo­rations and even pri­vate jets. Crys­tal Cruises is in­tro­duc­ing no less than five new river yachts be­tween 2016 and 2017. It has also un­veiled Crys­tal Lux­ury Air, with 14- and 28-day “air cruises” set to launch this year on a twinaisle Boe­ing 777-200.

Themed itin­er­ar­ies are also be­com­ing pop­u­lar, with a pen­chant for more ad­ven­tur­ous travel to ex­plore the world’s poles prov­ing par­tic­u­lar pop­u­lar, as ev­i­denced by Lind­blad Ex­pe­di­tions’ pur­pose­built Na­tional Geo­graphic Quest. Mean­while, Car­ni­val, the world’s largest cruise com­pany, re­cently launched new brand Fathom, which fo­cuses on “im­pact travel”, where pas­sen­gers get in­volved with com­mu­nity-based work that has a pos­i­tive so­cial im­pact.

Ex­pand­ing to new mar­kets is also an on­go­ing quest, with Cuba be­ing one of the hottest new des­ti­na­tions on global cruise itin­er­ar­ies. Aus­tralia and New Zealand also both have ro­bust cruise mar­kets, par­tic­u­larly in New Zealand where the in­dus­try has dou­bled in the last five years.

The dy­namism of the Asia-Pa­cific mar­ket only spells good news, yet it has also high­lighted in­fras­truc­tural is­sues that need to be ad­dressed. In De­cem­ber 2016, Ova­tion of

the Seas be­came the largest ship ever to visit New Zealand, but it was too big for Auck­land’s two main cruise ship ter­mi­nals, and had to an­chor out in Waitem­ata Har­bour in­stead. In­dus­try in­sid­ers have com­mented that a lack of ap­pro­pri­ately sized port fa­cil­i­ties is im­ped­ing the in­dus­try’s growth, cit­ing the re­cent can­cel­la­tion of a new 4,200-pas­sen­ger ship by P&O Cruises that would have specif­i­cally tar­geted the Aus­tralasian re­gion.

Nev­er­the­less, there’s lit­tle doubt that the com­ing decades will see a surge in cruis­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for both Asians and in­trepid in­ter­na­tional trav­ellers, all keen to ex­plore the di­ver­sity of the Asi­aPa­cific re­gion from the com­fort of a plush berth on the ocean waves.

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Main: A bird’s-eye view of the Gent­ing Dream

Clock­wise from top: Gent­ing Dream’s Bar 360; Celebrity Mil­len­nium dock­ing at Kai Tak Cruise Ter­mi­nal in Kowloon Bay; and a bal­cony suite on board Sil­versea’s Sil­ver Cloud

From top: Royal Caribbean In­ter­na­tional’s Ova­tion of the Seas; and Gent­ing Dream’s fourper­son sub­ma­rine

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