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Cruise Shipping Asia preview: Lines and ports face challengies, opportunities in Asia market

The challenges and opportunities facing cruise lines and cruise destinations in Asia are much the same as elsewhere in the world, says Ted Blamey, principal consultant of Chart Management Consultants Pty Ltd. Blamey and three other cruise experts are participants on the "Destinations: Challenges and Opportunities in the Development of the Cruise Industry" panel at the event in Singapore Nov. 16-18.

Blamey notes there are two core criteria required for a successful cruise port: "Ensure cruise guests rate the destination highly and ensure the cruise line operation is smooth and economical."

To garner high ratings from guests, destinations need to provide "activities and attractions ashore to make the guest experience enjoyable and memorable, have sufficient local transport to allow guests to get to the attractions comfortably and safely, provide trained, knowledgeable guides with good language skills to deliver the experience and create a clean, safe and welcoming environment to make the experience pleasant and hassle-free," said Blamey.

On the cruise line operations side, Blamey says it is essential that the ship -- or its tenders -- is able to disembark and embark guests easily, quickly and safely. Lines also expect port charges to be reasonable, red tape minimal, local officials helpful and port agents experienced and capable.

He notes that Asia presents a mix of both mature and emerging cruise destinations.

"Many Asian destinations have been welcoming cruise ships for decades and receiving high ratings from both guests and the ships, among them Singapore, Hong Kong, Bali and Penang," he said. "In the past five to 10 years, many 'new' destinations such as Korea's Jeju Island, Vietnam's Halong Bay, Shanghai and other cities in China have become cruise success stories."

But while in other parts of the world port operations have become standardized and best practices set, those functions largely are dependent on local custom and laws in Asia.

"Most destinations come under the local port and municipal authorities," Blamey said. "While progressive destinations study successful practices across the region -- and the globe -- and adopt what makes sense to them, they typically work to their own agenda, which perforce must take account of existing infrastructure, geographic features, local laws and customs. However, the role of the port agent is critical to the industry and here we do see companies with global or region-wide operations standardizing, sharing personnel and taking a customer-centered approach."

Though Western cruise operators have now been there for a number of years, they are still trying to understand subtle differences in the Asian market.

"The global cruise operators are still discovering how to best meet the aspirations and expectations of Asian passengers, in every aspect of the cruise experience," Blamey said. "Shore programs are part of this. And it should not be assumed that guests from one Asian country will be looking for the same shoreside activities as those from another - each national market will have its own orientation and preferences."

But, he noted, as long as the cruise line and its shore tour operators and destination-management companies offer a combination of the iconic sights and attractions for which a place is famous and some unique experiences in each destination, most guests will enjoy the destination and be satisfied with their port experience.

Though many Asian destinations are investing heavily to develop their passenger infrastructure, Blamey points out that the emphasis should be on the experiential aspects of cruising.

"It is the experiences ashore that matter most to the guest, not the dedicated cruise infrastructure," he said. "Sometimes a great destination may have no infrastructure at all -- for instance, certain islands, beaches and villages in the South Pacific and Papua New Guinea. From the ship's point of view, even an established port in a prominent city need not have a dedicated cruise terminal as long as passenger and coach movements can be conducted in safety and under shelter."

But the challenges for many ports in the region lie in developing sufficient shoreside support services and equipment -- especially as the size of cruise ships in the region rapidly increases.

"The tourism plant can be a constraint," said Blamey. "Coaches and guides, sometimes watercraft, do need to be of sufficient number, safe, clean and comfortable to deal with the number of passengers coming ashore and taking excursions."

The "Destinations: Challenges and Opportunities in the Development of the Cruise Industry" panel is scheduled for the afternoon of Nov. 16. Moderated by Yeoh Siew Hoon, producer of WebinTravel, in addition to Ted Blamey of Chart Consultants, the panel will feature Dr. Sapta Nirwandar, director general of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the Republic of Indonesia; Richard Doyle, managing director of Doyle Tourism Services, and Dr. Gary Cheng, associate professor at the School of Economics and Management of Shanghai Maritime University and Eduardo Gonzalez Cid, under secretary general of the Mexico Ministry of Tourism.

Cruise Shipping Asia is presented by UBM plc. The conference and exhibition are scheduled Nov. 16-18, 2011, at the Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Center in Singapore.