SINGAPORE: Last year saw impressive growth for the cruise industry in Singapore.
Data released by the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) revealed that total cruise throughput jumped 35 per cent to 1.87 million in 2018 compared to the year before.
But the industry is not being complacent. It acknowledges it needs to do more to attract certain segments in a bid to stay competitive.
Experts CNA spoke to say that millennials and Gen Z form an untapped market for cruise operators.
“The cruise operators will have to provide different offerings to different segments of the market especially to the millennials, who have not really warmed to the idea of a cruise holiday,” said Dr Michael Chiam, senior lecturer in tourism at Ngee Ann Polytechnic.
"There is tremendous potential for growth."
Dr Chiam’s comments echoed a report by the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), which said that Gen Z is set to become the largest consumer generation by the year 2020 - outpacing even millennials.
Generation Z, or Gen Z for short, typically refers to those born from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s.
“This generation like the one before, prefers experiences over material items and is seeking out travel," said CLIA.
"The appeal of multiple destinations and unique experiences, such as music festivals at sea, is attracting this new category of cruisers."
CLIA also noted that the increase of younger cruise passengers will contribute to what it describes as “instagrammable cruise travel”, via social media.
“Instagram photos are driving interest in travel around the world," said the association.
"With on board connectivity, cruise passengers are filling Instagram feeds with diverse travel experiences both onboard and on land from several cruise destinations."
CLIA also noted that Asia saw a 4.6 per cent increase in cruise passengers to 4.24 million, occupying 14.8 per cent of total global passenger volume.
NEWER AND BIGGER SHIPS TO CATER TO YOUNGER PASSENGERS
Major cruise companies like Royal Caribbean also acknowledge that the younger segment is crucial to its business.
Speaking at a media presentation on Tuesday (May 21) following the Spectrum of the Seas’ maiden call to Singapore, senior vice president of international for Royal Caribbean, Mr Gavin Smith, told CNA that “it is a natural progression” for the younger segment - especially for those in their 30s with families - to book cruise holidays.
“This group might have experienced a cruise with their parents earlier on and have formed an opinion about when they went with their families," he said.
"Normally, old-style cruising was very regimented and very fixed and very organised - like sitting for dining. What we have spent the last decade doing is de-regimenting what we do."
He added: “Young people want a more authentic experience and they want a more immersive experience."
The largest cruise ship in Asia, weighing over 170,000 gross registered tonnes and able to accommodate more than 5,600 guests, the Spectrum of the Seas features activities such as a virtual reality trampoline and skydiving simulator as well as robotic bartenders.
“Asia has one of the largest demands for cruising worldwide, and markets for Asia, including Singapore continue to see double digit growth,” said Mr Smith.
Perception of the cruise industry is also another factor in wooing younger customers, said Ms Alice Tan, a hospitality and tourism management lecturer at Nanyang Polytechnic.
“They need more personalisation, and have different needs and wants. The perception of cruises to them is boring, mainly with eating and gambling," said Ms Tan.
"The cruise industry has lost its novelty."
She suggested having more tech-based activities, instead of on board entertainment solely being "just casinos and live shows".
STB WORKING WITH INDUSTRY PARTNERS
Responding to CNA’s queries, Ms Jeannie Lim, assistant chief executive of STB’s policy and planning group, said they will continue to work with cruise industry partners to secure a "vibrant pipeline" of ships and new cruise offerings to Singapore.
“This diversity of ships appeals to different market segments and a wide range of travellers," she said.
"Bigger ships in particular, such as Spectrum of the Seas and Genting Dream, are also able to provide facilities, experiences and programmes on board that appeal to all age groups."
STB also said that India is Singapore’s number one cruise market with 160,000 cruise passengers in 2018, up 27 per cent year-on-year.
Ngee Ann Polytechnic's Dr Chiam said that in order for Singapore to remain competitive, more creativity in marketing is needed in encouraging cruise passengers to stay here before and after their cruise, instead of seeing Singapore as just a transit hub.
While Dr Chiam described the cruise industry’s growth as “healthy”, he said that one of the major challenges is uncertainty in the global economy.
“The uncertainty will affect consumers’ sentimental, thus affecting their willingness to spend, as well as their travel choices,” he said.
Nonetheless, Dr Chiam is “cautiously optimistic” that the cruise industry will do well in the year ahead.