When dreaming of a cruise vacation, images of tropical Caribbean islands, the majestic Alaskan Coast or the fjords of Northern Europe may spring to mind. However, Tourism Malaysia Chairwoman Tan Sri Dr Ng Yen Yen, visualizes great cruise ships exploring the islands and ports of Asia, which she sees as the new tourism for Asia in the 21st Century.
Cruise tourism is one of the fastest growing tourist activities in the world. While Asia and the Pacific accommodates nearly 800,000 cruise passenger annually, the number is a mere 6% of global market share in the industry.
In 2013, there were 21 international cruise liners serving Asia with 56 ships, generating 762 cruises and $2 billion. By the end of 2014, 23 new vessels are expected to join the market. Despite this growth, the Asia Pacific market share is expected to remain in the product-introduction phase, as barriers to entry are increasingly high and many Asian destinations lack the adequate infrastructure to support the market.
Current infrastructure expansions to accommodate cruise ships include the deepening of the Kuantan Port in Malaysia, as well as Sihanoukville in Cambodia, Tanah Ampo Cruise Terminal in Indonesia and the Marina Bay Cruise Centre in Singapore.
But, is there enough demand for cruise tourism in Asia to further invest in the infrastructure needed to grow the market?
Asia Cruise Association projects a potential source market of seven million by 2020, with forecasted growth rates as high as 30% annually. And, Ng points out that Southeast Asia offers more than 25,000 islands, compared to the Caribbean’s 7,000, with year-round warm weather, unique cultural experiences, heritages sites and rich flora and fauna.
Ng also believes that “the development of the Asia MSR cruise will provide vast opportunities for economic cooperation, bilateral and multilateral investments in all countries involved.” Needless to say, the industry could infuse billions of dollars and thousands of jobs to the regional economy.
However, the question remains – who would be riding the cruise ships through the Asian seas? Americans and Europeans would be faced with stiff airfare fees on top of the price for a cruise vacation. Therefore, the real market potential lies within the regional population, and should be designed by and targeted toward Asians.
It is reported that nearly 100 million Chinese tourists travelled abroad in 2013, and spent more money while abroad than any other nationality, beating out the Americans and Germans. In fact, Chinese tourists spend $138.7 billion abroad in 2013, a 26% increase from 2012. Asian countries dominated the list of most popular destinations for Chinese visitors, including Thailand, South Korea, Macau, Taiwan, Singapore and Malaysia. Providing these travellers with new and exciting mediums in which to travel the region and spend their money could be very lucrative for regional tourist ministries.
Aside from economic impact, perhaps the development of the cruising industry could aid in environmental advancements as well. Preserving the serenity of area islands and working to clean the ports of major cities would no doubt be an important factor in luring people to sail the seas, while also improving the quality of life for the residents.
Environmental and infrastructure improvements to facilitate the industry could have a strong, positive effect on the region. The development of new revenue-generating connections between cities and countries in the region could strengthen relations and cooperation on a number of initiatives, and perhaps even hold potential for American and foreign cruise companies to enter a new market and help regional companies and governments build new leisure products for an increasingly wealthy population.