15 minutes with… CLIA Southeast Asia’s chair Ann Sherry

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Southeast Asia is to become the latest base for Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), with the appointment of a new chair and the hunt for a general manager to take charge of building membership.

CLIA Southeast Asia’s first chair Ann Sherry sat down with ASEAN Cruising to explain the purpose of the group and their priorities in the region.

ASEAN Cruising: What’s the purpose of CLIA Southeast Asia?

Ann: The purpose is two fold : one is to be an advocate for the markets of ASEAN, and to get the message out that there is an opportunity. To make the market work in ASEAN you need more than one or two countries. You need to be able to put itineraries together that delivery great experiences across a number of the ASEAN countries.

Objective two is to get countries who are interested to understand what they need to do to harness the power of cruise in their markets.

There are a number of workshops that CLIA Southeast Asia has been running for national governments that have expressed interest: the Philippines, Vietnam, have all had workshops looking at what they need to do to capture the opportunity.

ASEAN Cruising: What are the priorities?

Ann: Port facilities are a first issue. If you can’t get people on and off the ships its always harder to create a great experience. But they are not the only story. You know if you have great port facilities and nothing at the back of it, that doesn’t work either.

So really the opportunity of the workshops is to try and get in the same room the port, infrastructure, the transport people and the tourism people together.

You need ports where, ideally, you can get alongside, where transport in and out of port precincts works. And you need tourism operators to create great experiences.

And you need to create what visitors want.

Often we go to places where everyone thinks everyone wants a t-shirt.

You need to translate those three things because that creates an amazing experience and gets people to come back and that causes us to come back as well.”

ASEAN Cruising: Are Asian destinations stuck in the T-shirt and rickshaw ride era?

Ann: I think some are – and also you need to hear from us and we explain what people want from a destination, you interpret it through your own eyes.

If I used the PNG example – it’s been a wonderful opportunity to get local artisans to a market and see how they sell.

To see the value tourists place on a beautiful ebony bowl that is hand carved. So understanding the power of local artisans and local handicraft .

Phuket has a well developed tourism infrastructure so they have a greater sense of the tourism offering they’ve got. Malaysia in general – each of their ports is starting to get a handle on it.

And then I think there are other places – Halong Bay in Vietnam is the traditional boat rides out around the island.

But when I talked to the Vietnamese government about the road from Halong Bay to Hanoi, that’s a piece of infrastructure that needs investing in because it is a difficult and actually terrifying drive.

If you are coming from a port where the road infrastructure is better it allows people to get further in a day or two days. And I think that’s the piece of insight that CLIA is looking to share with governments so they understand what makes people buy a trip to Hanoi as opposed to staying in the precinct where the ships are.

ASEAN Cruising: What do you hope to achieve?

Ann: There’s a number of things. One is we need to activate travel agents – part of the objective is training travel agents. This is a key target so that more cruises are sold to the local market.

The second is to have all of the ASEAN countries with a cruised strategy. Hence the workshops we’ve been running, using the exemplars of some of the countries like Malaysia.

The third piece is selling Asia as a destination to Australians, Americans and Europeans and also really making sure the product work for the domestic market as well. You need to have a balance. P&O, Carnival Cruise Lines are sailing to Singapore out of Australia. Princess has a very large Asian deployment. The time zone alignment between Australia and the Southeast Asia is a huge opportunity.

Cunard is arriving in Asia on the next wave as well.

There’s such a strong demand for international luxury brands.

And this isn’t for expats. This is for locals. As we know, there is a very fast growing aspirational group of people right through North and South Asia who are getting wealthier by the day.

ASEAN Cruising: How do you convince mature and well-off Asian travellers about cruise?

Ann: We’ll make it easier so you don’t have to get on a long flight to get on a cruise. Second proposition is to think about when are the times people are interested in travel. Chinese New Year, for instance, when lots of people are travelling with families.

We need to think a bit hard about how we pitch ourselves to the market and when. And food and multilingual announcements.

We learned a lot from the Princess deployments in Japan. But we can do more.

On most of the ships there are sushi bars everywhere, Asian food and spas and good casino facilities. There is a lot that already works. I think it is at the margin where you need to display understanding. What language do you need, how do you communicate and what are the sensitivities you need to be aware of so that you are not creating issues where you don’t need to.

ASEAN Cruising: What will CLIA Southeast Asia have on the ground?

Ann: We’re looking at two things; getting a local service to manage the membership and secondly looking at hiring someone to replace the retired general manager, Kevin Leong.

We are finalising our budgets. Once that’s done, we’ll be in the market.

There are already local as well as global members. All the major Carnival lines are members. Royal Caribbean is a member. Star, Singapore Tourism Board. We do have some travel agents, but not many at the moment.

We’re all meeting together at SeaTrade Asia in Hong Kong, and that will give us a clearer picture

ASEAN Cruising: Will it look at Southeast Asia as a source or a destination?

Ann: I think it has got to be both. It takes a while to build source markets but one of the reasons for putting ships into Southeast Asia is that people locally see the ships and think: “Oh, wow! Maybe I should do that.

But to really get it sold you have to get the local travel agents able to sell that.

So it is about bringing local agents on board, doing more entertaining on the ships, frankly all the things we did in the Australia market to get it moving.

I know it’s slow to start, but then it gathers momentum and builds quite quickly.

We’re using the Seatrade Asia to run big training sessions so people get excited. And all of the brands are running online training that runs into those markets, so increasingly that’s being done in language.

Princess Academy is being delivered in Japanese, in Mandarin and so on.

I think delivering training in language on line and then supplementing with the bigger picture pieces.

We’re suggesting tackling questions like: Why would you sell cruise? What is a cruise? And here are some of the brands and then do some of the more detailed training online.