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 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.
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