Singapore’s market penetration for cruise is now among the highest in the world at 6.4 per cent – meaning Princess Cruises is perfectly placed to ride the Asian wave of new cruisers trying holidays on the water for the first time.
The premium line carried 394,000 passengers in the region last year – just six years after it began homeporting vessels in Singapore.
Today, according to Stuart Allison, Princess Cruises’ Senior Vice President in charge of Asia Pacific, the line has itineraries in all areas Asians love to travel: Singapore, Japan, Alaska and the Mediterranean. And he predicted the region could double its four million cruisers in the next five to ten years.
Mr Allison was meeting agents and trade partners on his first visit to Singapore since he was put in charge of the region when he spoke to ASEAN Cruising about the line’s success.
He singled out the role travel agents’ play in the extraordinary growth of cruise, saying they were the “absolute foundation” of the region’s performance.
Singapore’s position with one of the world’s highest penetration by population – a title long-held by Australia at 5.8 per cent – had “flown under the radar”, but was a signal of more growth to come, particularly for Princess.
Cruise Lines International Association Australasia acknowledged Singapore’s numbers were high, while maintaining that Australia had the highest “of all the large, established markets”.
“We’re moving to year-round cruising in Japan, expanding our presence in Taiwan, and Singapore continues to grow. I think it’s great for international and local cruising.
“Such is the demand from international visitors as well as interest from locals, we’re gradually introducing more longer cruises from Singapore.
“With Grand Princess coming next season, we’re having more longer cruises from Singapore than we’ve ever had before and fewer three- and four-day itineraries.”
What’s driven Singapore – and the region’s – success?
“The incredible amount of short cruise options that Singapore now has means that so many people have been brought into the market,” says Mr Allison.
“The life-cycle of a cruiser might be: ‘I want a short cruise to try it out’. Then: ‘I liked that. Now I want to do a little bit longer but still close to home’. Then: ‘I want to do something a little more adventurous but I don’t want to go too far.’”
The destination most Asians want to visit: Japan
According to Mr Allison, this explains the success of Japan – a country where Princess has a particularly strong offering – as the destination most Asians want to visit.
“Japan is the number one destination,” he said. “For us to have the biggest program of cruises from Japan means we’re well stepped to help Asian cruises to cruise in that journey.
“And of course, when you go longer haul, the number one and two destinations for Asians are Alaska and Europe. And we’re number one in Alaska and our new ships in Europe in the next few years means we’re well positioned to capitalise on the growth in this region.”
Agents were another reason for Asia’s success. Mr Allison believes that, while the global average of bookings coming through travel agencies is 80 per cent, in Asia it could be as high as 90 per cent.
“Whilst we think a cruise is a very simple holiday to wrap your head around, with so many brands and destinations it can be quite daunting to a first-time cruiser. Having a travel agent help navigate all those options is critical.”
The Princess Academy
He said the Princess Academy’s online training modules had been very popular in Asia.
“We have 8,000 consultants and 800 travel agencies registered for the Academy. Half the consultants are already commodores (the highest level). There’s a hunger from consultants to learn and the trend we see is that agencies that have consultants in their businesses that are registered commodores typically deliver more revenue than agencies without commodores. So it’s proven that it’s good for business.”
Mr Allison believes it’s an urban myth that Asians can only take short cruises because they are only given short holidays from work. “You could, by including a weekend, still take a cruise in Japan in a week. And around the world, the average Princess cruise is seven to eight nights”, he says.
The region outside of Singapore is also experiencing growth, with Malaysia strong, “encouraging trends” from Indonesia and Vietnam liking short cruises from Taiwan.
“Every market has its nuances. But every market loves cruising to Japan,” he said.
Princess has recently appointed two staff to Jakarta to help service the growth from that country, and has six offices in Asia.
The OceanMedallion, a high-tech device which improves personalised service on the line’s newer ships, will arrive in Asia aboard the Grand Princess, which will be homeported in Singapore.
Special training modules for agents are already available and Grand Princess and Regal Princess, which will be passing through Singapore on route to Australia next year, will be used to familiarise agents with the device.
On the next six years, Mr Allison says: “I think that Singapore is a great option for Asians cruising within the region and having more itineraries that start or end in Singapore is very much part of our strategy for the region going forward.”
The next year will see Grand Princess homeport in Singapore, Majestic Princess become the first Princess ship to homeport for a full season in Taiwan, and Diamond Princess continues to offer sailings throughout the year in Japan.
In the next six years, Princess Cruises will welcome five new ships to its fleet, including Sky Princess this October, Enchanted Princess in June 2020, and a third yet to be named ship in 2021. Two LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas)-powered cruise ships will soon join the fleet.