Some 1,888 passengers were on board Quantum of the Seas’ recent Chinese New Year sailing, an “auspicious sign” that Royal Caribbean International's Asia Pacific managing director Angie Stephen is taking as a harbinger of better times to come for the cruise industry.
Going by the market response to the cruise line's recent announcement to extend Quantum of the Seas’ Singapore sailings by another three months to 21 June, the regional chief of Royal Caribbean is probably breathing a little easier too.
Not only did bookings not slow down as anticipated during the recent festive period, the cruise line is pulling in “170% higher bookings than expected for the next few months, with stronger demand around Easter and March and June holidays”, Stephen told Travel Weekly Asia.
New to Quantum's extended season is the addition of 2N sailings, which Stephen said would be ideal for those who are “still on the fence” about cruising. Otherwise, passengers can expect the cruise experience as well as safety protocols to remain.
Since Royal’s resumption of sailings in Singapore, Stephen has noted an 15-20% increase in first-time cruisers and many of these guests are booking cruises again for the extended season, so much so that Quantum’s highest Royal Loft suite is already sold out for the peak dates during the March and June holidays.
Stephen said Royal Caribbean is on an education campaign with travel partners to get more Singapore seniors book cruise packages.
Courting the seniors
At the same time, Stephen also noted that younger and more affluent cruise-goers are now making up a bigger share of the market. “We are tapping into a much more affluent audience, which means higher commissions for the travel agent."
Interestingly, “a larger share of the 55 and older who have travelled with us in the past haven’t rebooked yet”, she noted.
This could be due to lingering perceptions that cruising is less safe than other holiday types, which Stephen said is unfounded. Some agents have shared that grown-up children of some past clients were not allowing their senior family members to go on a cruise due to safety concerns, but such impressions are changing as more of the younger set experienced cruises themselves and are now encouraging their parents to return to sailing.
That goes to show that “there’s still a segment of the repeat market that we haven’t reached yet, so there’s a big opportunity there”, said Stephen, urging travel agents to tap the silver cruising market by staying well-informed about cruise products and proactively engaging prospective customers.
“We’re seeing an increase in digital bookings, so any travel partner with a strong digital and social presence are doing disproportionately better than those who weren’t in that space before Covid,” she said. “Yet, some of the seniors are still wanting to talk to someone face to face, so our travel partners have to think about education programmes for them.”
Cruising into the near future
Encouraging as these trends have been, that isn’t to say the strong demand could be sustained over a longer period if the government’s current restrictions – sailings at half occupancy and open to local residents only – continue to be in place for a small market base like Singapore.
On Stephen’s “wishlist” is for the Singapore government to open cruising to small MICE and affinity groups (including weddings), so that groups of 50 pax, for instance, would be able to hold their programmes on board cruise ships in the near future. Currently, the rule of eight people for social groups is applied on cruise ships as well as on land.
The cruise executive is also hoping that the sailing capacity for cruise ships will be revised from the current 50%, given Royal Caribbean’s proven track record since resuming operations in Singapore.
So, what lies ahead for Quantum of the Seas after June?
“I have no predictions for after June 21, but never say never,” said Stephen, adding that Royal Caribbean “will be ready” to extend the season or call on ports that are opening again, however the situation pans out.