SINGAPORE - Previously marketed as floating cities packed with entertainment and activities, cruises will need to be positioned very differently to recapture consumer confidence in a post-COVID-19 world, say planners.
UOB Travel Planners' executive director, head of travel Mr Steven Ler, who has handled small MICE groups of up to 100 on cruises, foresees that cruise lines will need to relook the value of the cruise proposition as a one-stop destination for entertainment and activities.
Cruise lines will need to identity activities that meet the requirements for physical distancing, and this might mean many mass activities on board could suffer, he said. This could mean minimising onboard activities and shifting the focus on shore, offering itineraries with two stopovers with longer port time to allow passengers more time to disembark at a destination.
Another aspect that could be marketed better is how cruise travel minimises the need to move through multiple modes of transportation, as cruises can bring passengers right into city centres, he said.
"Cruise lines need to articulate their hygiene controls and health protocols and how they are ensuring such checks are always in place in order to give customers the confidence to return." He added that more clarity on how dining on board ships will be handled is needed - whether this will mean measures such as offering only packed meals and staggered meal times.
World Express' managing director Mr Darren Tan is optimistic that people are hungry to cruise and will do so again "if they feel confident that cruise lines offer a safe and sanitised environment, which everyone in the industry is moving towards," he said.
Mr Tan, whose destination management company provides shore excursions and ground services to cruise lines. He added: "Some cruise lines have indicated they will sail with reduced capacity, for example 75% occupancy initially, to ensure better social distancing. Buffets will be stopped and in-room dining with be increased. Most importantly, health and sanitation protocols will be enhanced.".
The DMC has ensured that all its vehicles all cleaned and sanitised before any movements. Hand sanitisers and face masks are also made available for guests.
"We foresee a greater demand for private shore excursions and transfers, with guests seeking customised and privatised services," he added.
In recent weeks, cruise companies such as Genting Cruise Lines have introduced stringent health and safety measures across their fleets in a bid to instil consumer confidence of cruise ships.
Destinations like Singapore are also preparing to pave the way for cruises to return safety. To regain confidence in cruising, Singapore Tourism Board will be actively working with global cruise body Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), cruise lines and trade partners. A key focus will be to raise the awareness of enhanced hygiene, sanitation and safe distancing measures on cruise ships and terminals. It will also be ensuring that homeported cruise brands also have enhanced measures when sailings resume.
STB will work with CLIA to develop relevant training for travel agents in key markets such as India, Indonesia and Malaysia, to get agents ready for the resumption of sailings. Topics will focus on strengthening consumer confidence through the enhanced health and safety standards and measures implemented by cruise lines and ports, such as temperature screening.
Cleanliness and sanitation certification for tourism businesses is also being rolled out as part of the SG Clean campaign run by the National Environment Agency and other government agencies. In March, the Marina Bay Cruise Centre Singapore obtained the SG Clean certification.
Cruise recovery: regional push needed
Regional collaboration will be key in driving cruise recovery when travel returns. To this end, Singapore Tourism Board (STB) intends to rally the support of regional governments to restore popular Southeast Asian itineraries in the recovery phase.
"COVID-19 has hit the global cruise industry hard, perhaps more so than any other sector in the travel industry. But Singapore believes in the long-term growth potential of cruising, and that we are well-positioned to help our partners recover and tap on that growth," said Ms Annie Chang, director, cruise of STB.
"Over the years, Southeast Asia has witnessed positive results with a growing presence of international cruise lines in the region. We believe this positive trend will continue for the cruise industry in the region as we bounce back from COVID-19," said Ms Chang.
"Singapore believes in the long-term growth potential of cruising and remains well-positioned to help partners recover and tap on that growth," noted Ms Chang.
Cruise tourism in Singapore has been booming in the last five years. From 2015 to 2019, cruise throughput grew at a compound annual growth rate of 15.6%. In 2019, foreign cruise throughput grew 3.5% despite supply constraints, with strong in-market demand from mid and long haul markets.
Singapore taps on a diverse portfolio of cruise source markets, which puts it in a strong position to adapt to how different countries emerge and recover from the COVID-19 situation. Strong cruise markets in the region include Malaysia, Indonesia and smaller but fast-growing markets like Vietnam. Its key mid-haul markets are India, Australia and China, while long-haul ones are Germany and the UK.