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Far East, Far Out!May 26, 2008 By: David Eisen Travel Agent
Now that Asia, specifically China, has bested the United States in export prowess, it’s only right that Uncle Sam give a little something back.
What better than our cruise ships? Cruise lines are always searching for the next big hot spot and, the way it looks now, Asia is that next big thing. Yes, Europe remains cruising’s now market, presenting a value to American travelers and a wealth of exciting itineraries. But, similar to the Caribbean, cruisers can become fickle, always on the lookout for new ports and destinations.
Enter the Dragon, to reference a popular Bruce Lee film. It’s well established that Asia Pacific is a burgeoning region, yet many areas remain untapped as travel destinations.
Legend of the Seas is one cruise ship that has added Asia to its itinerary.
Although Asia-based cruise lines such as Star Cruises, which is a 50-percent owner of Norwegian Cruise Lines, have been catering to Asians for years now, slowly, North American cruise lines are heading East to offer Asia itineraries that are meant for North American clientele. Are travelers responding?
“China is a hot destination, so is Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia, especially for Americans who want a unique and once-in-a-lifetime cruise experience,” said Sherry Laskin Kennedy, travel manager of AAA Auto Club South in Melbourne, FL. “I've booked a handful of clients on cruises to and within Asia on the upscale cruise lines, with sailing dates beginning in late 2008 and into spring 2009.”
Asia’s ports have taken notice of the surge and taken necessary steps to ensure that infrastructure is available to host the onslaught of new ships. This August, Shanghai expects to open a new cruise terminal that is designed to handle one million passengers a year. Singapore and Hong Kong too are planning to build new, bigger cruise ship terminals by 2010 and 2012 respectively.
Ocean Shipping Consultants, a UK-based consultancy that specializes in shipping and port development, is quick to back Asia as a potential goldmine for the cruise industry. “Asian markets offer massive cruise potential, in terms of both new destinations for Western cruise passengers and sources of cruise passenger growth,” read a recent company forecast.
Other Lines Follow Suit
Many cruise lines have heard the call and are steadily directing more focus on Asia itineraries. What used to be the luxury lines’ territory is now opening to premium and contemporary lines. In 2009, Holland America Line will feature nine voyages of 14 to 19 days on MS Volendam to Asia Pacific calling at many exotic locales in China, Southeast Asia, Korea, Indonesia and Vietnam. Richard Meadows, executive vice president, marketing, sales and guest programs for Holland America, calls Asia Pacific a “must-do for experienced travelers.”
Not to be outdone, Costa Cruises is set to double its presence in Asia in 2009 by deploying a second ship to the region. Costa first started cruising Asia back in 2006 on Costa Allegra and is now adding Costa Classica in March 2009.
Meanwhile, Carnival Corp. brand, Princess Cruises, will sail Diamond Princess on Asia itineraries beginning in October 2008 and again for spring in March 2009. The ship will sail a popular 16-day route between Beijing and Bangkok, which will include calls at Nagasaki, Shanghai, Okinawa and Taipei. In total, Princess has four ships sailing in the region and Jan Swartz, senior vice president of customer service and sales, says North Americans make up a strong percentage of passengers.
Carnival competitor Royal Caribbean International began its season in Asia this year (2007/2008) with Rhapsody of the Seas. Royal Caribbean noted that bookings were strong for the ship’s itineraries, both from Asia passengers and passengers worldwide. In 2008/2009, Royal Caribbean will operate in Asia for a second consecutive season with Legend of the Seas. Royal Caribbean’s senior vice president of marketing, Alice Norsworthy, calls Asia an “integral part of our global expansion strategy.”