CruiseIndustry Q&A: Royal Caribbean International’s Angie Stephen has her sights set on growing cruise opportunities in Southeast Asia.

Let the sea be your playground

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There's been a swift return in demand for fly-cruise vacations, says Royal Caribbean International's vice president Asia Pacific Angie Stephen.
There's been a swift return in demand for fly-cruise vacations, says Royal Caribbean International's vice president Asia Pacific Angie Stephen.

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What key trends are you seeing in Southeast Asia since the reopening of borders?
Travellers are eager to embark on adventures now that borders are open and ports-of-call sailings are back, and we are seeing international demand increasing significantly. The fastest growth is coming from within the region with India, Malaysia, and Indonesia leading the pack. We are also pleasantly surprised with the volume coming from long-haul markets like the US and Europe. We are heading in the right direction and as flight capacity increases and flight prices stabilise, we expect international demand to continue to rise. 

The fastest growth is coming from within the region with India, Malaysia, and Indonesia leading the pack. We are also pleasantly surprised with the volume coming from long-haul markets like the US and Europe.– Angie Stephen, vice president, Asia Pacific, Royal Caribbean International

Testament to the increasing appetite for cruising in the region, all-inclusive voyage fares, as well as the opportunity to embark on adventures on the ship and at shore is highly valued by guests, and we foresee cruising to be an increasing trend amid post-pandemic travel.

What are the best opportunities for agents looking to sell cruising?
We see more opportunities than anything else now that things are returning to normal, and we are able to sail to destinations and offer our guests the full cruise experience. We’re sailing to Kuala Lumpur and Penang in Malaysia now, and by October we will also sail to Phuket as well, and have plans to include Vietnam too soon, so watch this space.

Even despite soaring airfares, we have seen demand return in the fly-cruise segment, which is fantastic. Sailing to destinations is a very compelling sell, so it’s also great news for the travel agents, especially since this region is the last untapped cruise market, with the fastest growing middle-class segment – 3.5 billion by 2030 – and cruising today has less than 1% penetration. 

Ultimate Family Suite on Royal Caribbean International's Spectrum of the Seas.
Ultimate Family Suite on Royal Caribbean International's Spectrum of the Seas.

How is Royal Caribbean encouraging agents to sell fly-cruise packages again?
Our cruises are a fantastic way to explore Asia conveniently and not spend precious holiday time at airports or in transfers between cities and hotels. And they are great value, with everything one needs for a great holiday included in the cruise price – fine dining meals, Broadway quality entertainment and fun activities – whether it’s bumper cars at the Seaplex, or trying out our rock wall or surfing the FlowRider and much more. Our travel partners are critical in communicating the great value that our guests enjoy onboard a Royal Caribbean cruise.

Many of our travel partners have already taken the opportunity to invest in a digital offering – that’s absolutely critical today as social media has truly become a central focus in consumers’ daily lives, and we have to be where the customers are. Having a strong social and digital presence also allows travel agents to connect with customers and provide them with the information when they need it, while also being able to track results to better understand customer demand. We’ve seen great results from our partnerships with some agents on a few campaigns in the last 12 months, so we hope to see a lot more happening along those lines.

Looking ahead, what developments at Royal Caribbean should travel agents be looking out for?
The return of cruising to destinations is timely, with countries around the region reopening to welcome visitors, revitalise their tourism sectors, and embrace the new normal. Coastal and maritime tourism are important economic drivers underpinning the Southeast Asian economies, and we’re excited to breathe new life into the region’s travel and tourism sectors. 

Since the resumption of ports of calls, Royal Caribbean International's Spectrum of the Seas is now sailing to Kuala Lumpur and Penang (pictured) in Malaysia.
Since the resumption of ports of calls, Royal Caribbean International's Spectrum of the Seas is now sailing to Kuala Lumpur and Penang (pictured) in Malaysia.

Royal Caribbean is working towards adding more ports into our itineraries, so guests have more destinations to explore and choose from. Singapore is a top destination in and of itself, and its proximity to neighbouring countries makes it easy to venture out and explore. There’s no better way to take full advantage of this than by taking a cruise, where guests can enjoy the ultimate combination of thrills, entertainment, and dining as they sail from one sensational destination to the next, onboard Spectrum of the Seas.

What do you hope to see in Asia’s cruise industry in the next five years?
There is tremendous opportunity for the growth of the industry, and with so many vibrant destinations in the region, Asia is well-placed to become a thriving cruise playground.

Continued infrastructure development in the region to accept larger ships and to provide destination experiences for guests will remain important in attracting larger ships to the region. Currently, Singapore and Penang, Malaysia have cruise terminal infrastructure which can accommodate our largest class ships.

We look forward to continuing our strong partnerships with ports across Asia, as we engage in conversations around infrastructure required at cruise terminals, as well as the activities guests can enjoy on land.

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