Hopes for cruise bubbles developing between ASEAN countries have soared, after key tourism executives in the region attending this week’s CruiseWorld Asia webinar revealed that discussion and plans are underway to restart cruising in their respective destinations.
Penang Global Tourism chief Ooi Chok Yan dropped a broad hint that Malaysia is looking to launch domestic cruising in the second quarter of 2021, when he was asked by panel moderator, Loh Lik Peng, chairman of Singapore Cruise Centre and CEO of Unlisted Collection, when the country might resume sailings.
“We’re pushing hard to start a domestic programme,” Ooi said. “We’re sharing our dreams with the Penang port authority and they are very supportive. [Now] we are waiting for the green light to go ahead and we understand safety protocols are in place."
Further, Ooi indicated talks are being held about developing travel bubbles with neighbouring countries that would allow cruise ships to venture further afield.
Penang is keen to restart domestic cruising. Photo Credit: Gettyimages/sitriel
Another destination that's garnering relative success in containing the pandemic is Thailand, where Thapanee Kiatphaibool, Thailand Tourism Authority's deputy governor for tourism product and business spoke of "learning more from the big sisters like Singapore".
Speaking alongside Ooi at the panel, Thapanee said that Thailand is looking closely at the successful safe cruising example set by Singapore while assessing a programme of ‘sailcations’ from the country.
Annie Chang, director, cruise development at the Singapore Tourism Board, said Singapore is paving the way for the rest of ASEAN to restart cruising. She urged authorities, including ports, to share information to help restart cruising in the region.
“This really is our window of opportunity,” Chang urged travel agents attending the CruiseWorld Asia webinar. “When borders open up, we want cruises to have a good share of the travel pie. And we hope to see fly-cruise come back when it’s safe to do so.”
Last week’s incident in which a Royal Caribbean International (RCI) cruise was suspended a day early after a passenger was suspected of contracting Covid-19 — subsequent tests onshore revealed the case was a false positive — underscored the effectiveness of safety protocols which have underpinned the cruise operations currently operating from Singapore.
Singapore’s robust testing regime is backed up by a tracing programme that uses phone-based technology. Passengers are also given a personal device that traces their movements and contracts around the vessel.
“This incident proved we have a game plan for every circumstance,” said Angie Stephen, managing director, Asia Pacific, Royal Caribbean International. “We proved the effectiveness of our protocols after months and months of planning with the authorities in Singapore.”
Stephen added that Quantum of the Seas was back at the Marina Bay terminal within six hours of the possible passenger infection and when guests embarked later at the terminal, they were grateful for the way the incident had been handled.
At the time of the incident, Quantum of the Seas had 1,680 passengers — less than half the ship's capacity of about 4,900 guests — and 1,148 crew on board.
Authorities allowed Quantum of the Seas to resume sailings after being satisfied that the health and safety protocols had been followed and worked as planned.
Michael Goh, president of Dream Cruises said the experience of local cruising, both in Singapore with World Dream, and Taiwan, where Genting’s Explorer Dream has carried 60,000 passengers on short trips, is testimony to the safety of cruising and should be seen as examples for others to follow.
“I’m looking forward to 2021,” he said. "The evolution of the new normal in travel is exciting to watch and I’m keen to see how it will play out."