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BT EXCLUSIVE

Royal Caribbean out to woo millennials and Asians

It has invested US$120m to refurbish the Mariner of the Seas with rides and activities to thrill young adults

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Angie Stephen says the company wants to change the way cruising is viewed.

Singapore

MILLENNIAL travellers the world over commonly have the idea that cruise holidays are for retirees and families with young children, but international cruise line Royal Caribbean International is keen on changing that perception.

Angie Stephen, its managing director for the Asia-Pacific, tells The Business Times: "We are trying to change the way cruising is viewed, trying to break the mould and push the boundaries on what millennial travellers can expect on cruise ships through new innovations to provide the best holiday experience for all of our guests."

To capture millennials, Royal Caribbean invested US$120 million refurbishing the 15-year-old Miami-based Mariner of the Seas, with more rides and activities suited to younger adults and thrill-seekers.

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This "includes a bigger range of water and dry slides, a surf simulator and even an escape room, among others," Ms Stephen said. But while these updates were made with millennials in mind, the company's other customers, especially those with young children, have also taken to them because they have provided many photo-worthy moments at sea.

The revitalised ship was launched in June. Before its refurbishment, the Mariner of the Seas spent five years in Asia. The stint ended in April.

While millennial-themed ships have yet to enter the Asian market, the cruise line is making attempts to understand this demographic better.

In Singapore, Royal Caribbean launched Brainwaves: Reimagining the Future of Cruising in August, a design-and-innovation competition inviting tertiary students in Singapore to submit their vision of what cruising in the future could be.

Ms Stephen said: "This has enabled us to see what millennials in Singapore are interested in and also serves as an opportunity for Royal Carribean to introduce them to cruises."

The competition ended early this month, and the results are to be announced soon, she added.

In South-east Asia, where Royal Caribbean's biggest markets are Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia, most customers are first-time cruisers, said Ms Stephen.

Singapore holiday-makers, she added, are keenest on short jaunts to regional destinations such as Penang and Kuala Lumpur.

With fares costing from S$299 per person for a four-day cruise, millennials - who Royal Caribbean believes also prefer shorter trips with more entertainment options - might find such holidays appealing.

Ms Stephen said it might be cheaper to stay on the ship than to spend a night out on the town, making it a compelling proposition for millennial travellers.

And in a region where most of its customer base are first-time cruisers, Royal Caribbean sees in this many opportunities for growth.

The 2018 Asia Cruise Trends report by Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) reported that the number of cruise ships deployed in Asia has grown 81 per cent since 2013.

The same study revealed that Asian cruise passenger numbers hit a record high last year, with 4.052 million having taken an ocean cruise; this was a 20.6 per cent increase on 2016's figure.

The bulk of this growth - 60 per cent - continued to be led by China, Royal Caribbean's biggest and fastest growing market in Asia.

To tap the growing demand and affluence of Asian consumers, the cruise company has progressively deployed larger vessels to the region.

When the cruise line extended its operations to Asia in 2007, it offered cruises on 2,000-guest vision-class ships. Since 2012, voyager-class ships, which can host around 3,800 guests, have plied Asian routes. In 2015, they were joined by 4,900-guest quantum-class ships.

Next year, Royal Caribbean will go a step further with the launch of the 5,622-guest Spectrum of the Seas - the first ship in the fleet catering to Asian passengers.

Ms Stephen said the vessel's inaugural Singapore season in May 2019 will offer itineraries to Penang, Kuala Lumpur and Shanghai.

As part of efforts to play a role in growing the cruise industry in Asia, Royal Carribean is also working with governments on infrastructure development in the region, as governments are increasingly taking notice of the economic impact of cruise tourism.

Ms Stephen said: "We have constant dialogue with the relevant authorities in countries in Asia, such as on improving port infrastructure and destination experience so we can bring larger ships in."

She said education is key in helping governments and port officials "understand the value of investing in developing infrastructure".

Royal Caribbean hopes that this can also lead to partnerships like the ones it has with the Singapore Tourism Board and the Changi Airport Group to grow the "fly-cruise" market here.

In Penang, the company announced a joint venture to conduct pier extension dredging works to accommodate larger cruise ships.

It is also working on having two of its ships undergo enhancement works in Singapore shipyards next year.

With the growth in the Asian market showing little signs of slowing down, Royal Caribbean cruise ships are likely to dock at more ports in South-east Asia with "a couple of countries that are showing real interest", said Ms Stephens.