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

SINGAPORE – Cruises here are still sailing on smooth waters even with the launch of several vaccinated travel lanes by Singapore.

Despite still not allowed to have ports of calls, cruises-to-nowhere have seen little to no impact from Vaccinated Travel Lanes (VTLs), which have sent some people scrambling for air tickets after almost two years of border restrictions.

Royal Caribbean International’s vice-president and managing director for Asia-Pacific, Angie Stephen, said it is fully booked for the rest of this year, and sailings for next year are also selling fast.

“If there’s anything we’ve observed in the past year, it’s the surge in repeat cruisers, as well as the significant increase in new-to-cruise guests,” Ms Stephen said, adding that Singapore has proven to be a fast growing market even without sailing 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 that is managed by Genting Cruise Lines.

Besides no port of calls, these cruise lines must also adhere to other measures, such as sailing at half the capacity, and only catering to Singapore residents.

Singapore has announced VTL plans with 21 countries thus far, and some, such as with Britain and the United States, have already kicked off.

Dream Cruises has seen “minimal impact” in booking cancellations since early October, when the VTLs first opened and gradually expanded, its president, Mr Michael Goh, said.

Mr Goh, who is also the head of international sales for Genting Cruise Lines, said cruise bookings for this month and the next month are almost sold out. It is also seeing strong demand for the first quarter of next year.

The rise and expansion of the domestic market is fuelling this demand, with new segments such as expats 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 cruising numbers have been impacted by the VTLs.

He said: ” There is also fairly limited capacity on the VTLs and the air fares are rather high. In one way, the travel restrictions have created a positive for the cruise industry in that many people have gone cruising for the first time because it was the only choice other than hotel staycations.”

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

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

Both Royal Caribbean International and Genting Cruise Lines said the VTLs are a good step, presenting opportunities for these cruise lines to welcome tourists.

Before Covid-19, about 70 per cent of cruise passengers are 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, Langkawi, Penang, and Port Klang.

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