Asia Update: Top Expedition Destination

Julieanne Yee Asia

As originally published in the September 2019 issue of Seatrade Cruise Review, Julieanne Yee, Director Asia, provides an update on the cruise industry in Asia, including her 'hidden gem' destination, overcoming challenges and sustainability in the region...

What are the key developments in Asia? 

(South East & North) The Philippines is very interesting at the moment; it is beautiful, with a strategic location suitable for itineraries across this region. The government is keen to grow tourism in a sustainable way and the ports of Corón, Vigan and Puerto Princesa have huge potential. Additionally, expedition cruising is growing worldwide and the Philippines is Asia’s leading expedition ship destination, with the smaller islands being especially appealing – in the past we have even managed to provide a cruise line with exclusive 2-day access to one of these islands. Indonesia is another destination to watch and there is an ongoing collaboration with cruise experts from Singapore to develop cruise industry best practices. 

The stable growth of tourism in nearby Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam is also benefiting Indonesia and we hope to see more of the country’s incredible destinations open up in the near future. In terms of port development, there has been significant investment in Japan, where new cruise terminals are increasing cruise capacity across the Far East region. China continues to be a leading turnaround destination and the operations are becoming more efficient every season. 

Indonesia and the Philippines are two destinations with great potential 

What are the new emerging destinations or hidden gems in Asia? 

Myanmar is my ‘hidden gem’. The main city of Yangon is amazing, like visiting Bangkok 50 years ago. There is the beautiful Shwedagon Pagoda, stunning countryside and a very strong local culture. Taiwan and Korea are both stunning and should get more calls in the future, especially as we expect more ships to visit the area.

The stunning Shwedagon Pagoda in Myanmar and Taiwan are great future cruise options

What are the main challenges of operating in Asia?

The varying levels of destination infrastructure, the weather, limited number of berths and lack of foreign speaking guides. Infrastructure challenges include cruise ships calling in cargo ports and/or a lack of transportation. We’ve had buses travel long hours to another city to stay overnight in order to service a call the following day. In terms of berthing, during high season in Singapore a two-berth port will service 3-4 turnarounds in a day, with two ships calling between 8am-5pm and two between 6pm-1am. Additionally, you have in-demand destinations with limited berth options, such as Phu My, Vietnam. 

A lack of foreign language guides has long been an issue, but we had great success last season in Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia with new audio-guide technology loaded with professional, custom-made commentary in various languages. Other initiatives include Translator-Guide partnerships, flying in guides from other destinations and local community collaboration. 

Every season the weather causes issues and we have detailed contingency plans for all types of weather challenges, especially for North Asia between July and October. Issues range from ship delays caused by heavy fog, to itinerary changes and cancelled calls due to typhoons. In the past, we have had to organize transfers and hotel rooms for over 2,000 guests within 24 hours due to an approaching typhoon.

Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam and Singapore are two destinations high in demand by cruise guests

Sustainability is a key topic in travel, is this having any impact in Asia?

The travel industry, local communities and government are driving change. For example, we are seeing a trend of the infamous elephant-riding venues closing, replaced by organizations promising a positive experience for the animals and visitors through soft interactions, such as walking with elephants in sanctuaries. In recent years, governments have closed tourist spots to aid the recovery of the natural environment, such as the recently reopened Boracay in the Philippines and Maya Bay in Thailand, which remains closed, with Komodo Island in Indonesia potentially closing in the near future. 

The cruise industry is taking note and we now have an opportunity to engage all stakeholders and carefully plan future cruise growth in Asia. We must ensure there is sustainable destination development that benefits the local community, delivers amazing guest experiences and preserves the natural beauty and cultural traditions of this wonderful region. 

 For more information on Intercruises Asia, please contact Julieanne Yee, Director Asia.