ASEAN KEY DESTINATIONS
S'pore urged to build new cruise terminal soon
Royal Caribbean says infrastructure needed to draw the biggest, best ships
SINGAPORE - A new cruise terminal must be built in Singapore soon if the biggest and best cruise ships are to be attracted here, the head of the world's second largest cruise line said, just as Asean tourism ministers floated plans for Caribbean-style cruising in the region.
'Singapore's cruise infrastructure needs development,' Royal Caribbean International (RCI) president Adam M Goldstein told BT in an interview.
'The Singapore Cruise Centre (SCC) has played an effective role in growing Singapore's involvement in the cruise industry, but if you look at the type of ships Royal Caribbean for instance is bringing into the market these days, they're not ships that could operate out of the SCC.'
The features and the range of entertainment options on the new generation of cruise ships would be as attractive to people taking cruises here as they are to guests in the other key cruise markets, like North America and Europe, according to Mr Goldstein.
'Singapore should have every interest to create cruise infrastructure that allows the biggest and best cruise ships in the world to come here,' he said.
From late last year, the 2,400 passenger Rhapsody of the Seas has been offering a handful of cruise itineraries out of the SCC, but this ship is 'absolutely the biggest' that can be operated out of that facility.
While some of the world's biggest cruise ships do call at Singapore, they have to dock at PSA's Pasir Panjang terminals, and passengers are received in temporary tent shelters on the wharves, hardly a glamorous way of dealing with international cruise passengers.
The restriction comes primarily because of the height limits in Cruise Bay due to the overhead cable car line between Sentosa and Mount Faber, and also because of the length of some of the vessels. Congestion at the SCC, particularly on weekends is also a key factor behind the need for a new terminal.
Currently Royal Caribbean has already built, or has on order, 14 ships all larger than the Rhapsody. None of them can call at the SCC.
Similarly, another seven vessels under its sister brand, Celebrity Cruises, fall into the same category, meaning that 20 of RCI's vessels cannot call at Singapore's only cruise centre. And this is just one cruise line.
'So you can see from that, that there will have to be further infrastructure development soon,' said Mr Goldstein.
The SCC expects that this year alone, of the nearly 850 scheduled cruise ship calls, 30 to 40 will have to use PSA's terminals instead.
Meanwhile, a proposal to expand the current SCC facilities by adding a 'T-shaped' berth appears to be taking some time.
According to SCC president Cheong Teow Cheng, the decision by the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) - which is the lead agency among a handful tasked with overseeing cruise infrastructure - appears to be hinging on a decision about a new cruise terminal which had earlier been slated for the first quarter this year.
In response to BT queries, the STB said technical and feasibility studies at a potential Marina South site have been concluded.
'We are now assessing and discussing with partner agencies on the next steps to take in the development plans for the site,' said Dayne Lim, STB's director of cluster development (sightseeing and cruise). 'As part of the planning process, STB is also speaking to cruise industry partners to obtain their feedback on what a new terminal could offer to best meet their needs. The STB will reveal more details at an appropriate time.'
BT understands that a decision on expansion of the SCC facility will be linked, but made separately from any decision as to where, when and if, a new terminal is built.
Industry players have expressed frustration over what they see as a lack of clarity regarding the new terminal, saying continued delays in deciding whether or not to build a new facility could harm Singapore's position as a key cruise hub in the region.
'The concept of Singapore being a regional hub 15 years ago meant a regional hub of Asean, but now Singapore being a regional hub means being a truly pan-Asian regional hub - that is the promise that Singapore carries,' added Mr Goldstein.
'It is very exciting and I would certainly hope that Singapore's attention and infrastructure development in the coming years facilitates and enables that potential as a truly pan-Asian regional hub to take root and flourish.'
Asean tourism ministers meeting in Singapore recently said the regional group will begin promoting Caribbean-style cruises in the 10-nation region.
No timeframe was given for the realisation of the group's latest project, but a website containing information on Asean as a cruise destination will be launched in Miami on March 14, they said after the meeting.
'I think there is a strong feeling amongst the Asean countries that we have the potential to develop Asean into an attractive destination for cruises, not unlike other parts of the world such as the Caribbean,' said Singapore Minister of State for Trade and Industry S Iswaran.
This would require co-ordination between member states in terms of developing the necessary infrastructure and cruise-related tourism products to position the region as a cruise tourism destination.
A working group tasked to draw up a blueprint for the project said that after the website is up, Asean will focus on building cruise terminals, launching a joint marketing effort and training personnel.
While the concept of Asean as a cruise destination is appealing and achievable, cruise centre facilities at any regional hub, including Singapore, must match or surpass the world's top cruise centres like Miami or Sydney, or even Tokyo, say Singapore-based cruise operators.