Just back in Miami from an intense trip to the Far East. It is always very exciting to be in Asia. Richard Fain and I don’t usually do such trips together but we were both in China with Dr. Zinan Liu, our Managing Director in China/Asia, and his team. After China, Dr. Liu and I flew to Singapore for the arrival of Voyager of the Seas at the beautiful new cruise terminal at Marina Bay South.
We started in Shanghai and met with top travel agents, media and officials. The huge city of Shanghai is organized in political districts so when we are there we normally see three different “governments”: the overall municipal government of Shanghai, the Hong Kou District government (where the famous Bund is and where our office is located as a well as the site of the cruise terminal where Legend of the Seas berths when in Shanghai) and the Baoshan District government (where the Wu Song Ku terminal is on the Yangtze River that is the upcoming home of Voyager of the Seas when in Shanghai).
As always we find there is considerable enthusiasm for continued growth of what the Chinese call the “cruise economy”. All of the government entities are supportive of our growth and acknowledge our leadership position. We appreciate their investment in the infrastructure that homeports require to handle Voyager-class ships. At the same time, we have challenged them to view cruising as a regional phenomenon where additional infrastructure development in the ports of call within China and in nearby countries (Japan, Korea, Vietnam, etc.) is essential for the full potential of cruising in Asia to be realized. There will have to be a collective regional effort to maximize the opportunity.
From Shanghai we flew to Beijing and held a press conference to announce that in 2013 Mariner of the Seas will join her sister Voyager of the Seas as an Asia-based ship. She will replace Legend of the Seas in the region. I will take a moment here to express my considerable appreciation to the officers and crew of Legend of the Seas for spearheading our growth in Asia and delivering the Wow to tens of thousands of Chinese and other customers on a variety of Asian routes. Legend of the Seas will continue to operate in China and Southeast Asia this year before repositioning to Europe for the summer of 2013.
Naturally, there was considerable excitement as a result of our announcement. Next year we will be able to provide Voyager-class cruising simultaneously in Shanghai and Tianjin (our homeport city in the Beijing region and I’m happy to say a sister city of Philadelphia). Voyager of the Seas now offers the DreamWorks experience and Mariner of the Seas will do so as well when she arrives in Asia next year.
The trip logistics got a little more challenging at the back end as I flew from Beijing overnight to Singapore, spent the day at the terminal and on Voyager before my overnight flight to London and then the connection to Miami. That amounted to two days of working and almost 30 hours of flying between my last hotel night and being back at my house. Such is the glamorous executive lifestyle.
What an amazing place Singapore is. They just do things right there. The Singapore Tourism Board (STB) was understandably nervous about the ability of the new terminal to support the first call of Voyager of the Seas. Two months in advance the STB was still signaling the possibility that Voyager’s first call would not be at the new terminal because it wouldn’t be 100% ready. Since the alternative was berthing the ship at a container facility we were very keen to see Voyager at her intended home from the start. Our faith was rewarded as the terminal performed extremely well and the turnout of travel agents, media, local officials and representatives from other ASEAN nations was truly impressive. I want especially to thank Kah Peng Aw the outgoing CEO of the STB for leading her team through this multiyear process in great style and with an excellent outcome. It has been a pleasure to work with her and her colleagues.
As I left Voyager for Changi Airport the ship was abuzz with 3,300+ guests primarily from the local market obviously enjoying the full range of onboard activities. It was a fulfilling sight that reminded me of cruise conferences in Singapore in the early 1990’s when I and others made wild guesses about what the Asia cruise market could become some day. It looks more and more like some day is today.