PEOPLE love cruises and when the cruise liner Superstar Virgo started operations yet again after the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak, there was a mad scramble for reservations.
At the height of the SARS outbreak this year, Star Cruises suffered a drop in sales and was relocated to Perth while SuperStar Aries, another luxury liner under the same group, suffered nearly a month of dry dock at the Sembawang Shipyard in Singapore.
Now business is back and SuperStar Virgo, the largest cruise liner, is plying the Straits of Malacca once again.
And the fact that it ran full-house is a sign that business is back to normal, said Star Cruises vice-president of corporate communications Jane Poh.
Poh added that when there was a drop in bookings on its usual sector (Singapore to Phuket), it was decided to move the SuperStar Virgo to Australia until the situation returned to normal.
Currently, Star Cruises is also developing its fly-cruise hubs in Singapore, Port Klang, Bangkok and Hong Kong where the fly-cruise programmes are intensified to provide wider marketing opportunities for the company.
Star Cruises is today the world's third largest cruise company, operating a combined fleet of 20 ships.
The company was first established in 1993 to tap the Asia-Pacific market. Besides the Star series, the company also owns the Norwegian Cruise Line, the Orient Lines and the Cruise Ferries.
In the Asia-Pacific region, cruises are conducted through eight vessels the SuperStars Virgo, Leo, Aries, Gemini, Capricorn, Pisces and MegaStars Aries and Taurus.
Today Star Cruises controls about 80% of the Asian market, and most of its passengers are from China, Hong Kong, Singapore and India.
The Chinese market is generally new and it is getting bigger and bigger every year, said Poh.
The spectacular homecoming of SuperStar Leo to Hong Kong's Victoria Harbour on July 31, 2003, with nearly 800 Australian and international passengers onboard marked the completion of the return of the luxurious twin-sister ships from Australia after a successful three-month cruise programme.
With the increased interest in its cruises from the public, Star Cruises is confident in saying that cruise tourism in the region is rapidly returning to normal and anticipates positive growth in the industry.
We are very excited about coming back to where we left off. It heralds an even more exciting time for cruise tourism in Asia which by all indications are experiencing a resurgence in the region. The response from all fronts, including our past passengers, the local governments, our trade and commercial partners and the public has been very encouraging which we trust will help boost the tourism industry at both the international and domestic levels, said Poh.
Poh said the near-capacity loads for the first few cruises since their return reflected the healthy return of confidence in cruise travel as a viable holiday option.
SuperStar Virgo departed Fremantle on July 11, 2003, with stops in Broome and Darwin en route to Singapore. Reaching Singapore on July 20, SuperStar Virgo was received with much anticipation from all her stops in Asia.
At her first Asian stop on her return journey, SuperStar Virgo with her 600 Australian tourists onboard was greeted auspiciously by a troop of lion and dragon dancers (courtesy of the Singapore Tourism Board) and graced by the Singapore Tourism Board deputy chairman and chief executive Lim Neo Chian.
At her first stop in Malaysia (Port Klang), she was greeted by Transport Minister Datuk Chan Kong Choy amid an atmosphere of cultural festivity.
Malay cultural performers and kompang (Malay cultural drums) players dressed in colourful costumes, arranged by the Selangor State Tourism Department, greeted disembarking passengers.
After a ship tour by the ship's captain Toivo Norell, the minister, in his speech, expressed much confidence in attaining success in developing Malaysia as a cruise hub with Star Cruises and the Ministry of Transport working closely together to reach a common goal.
Chan noted that the cruise business was one of the fastest growing industries in the world, adding that the terminal built by Star Cruises provided an indication of the large untapped potential for cruising in the region.
The different sectors in our local business community such as the travel and hospitality sectors, will invariably benefit economically as well as in growth, from the success of the cooperation between Star Cruises and the Ministry, he said.
On July 22, the 76,800 gross-tonne SuperStar Virgo made its maiden call in Penang, making it the largest cruise liner in terms of tonnage to call at the island state to date.
It berthed alongside at the North Butterworth Container Terminal (NBCT) with 2,000 passengers onboard from Australia, New Zealand, Norway, India, Singapore and Malaysia to name a few.
Her arrival was welcomed by a lively festive performance of lion dances and chinggay, a cultral tradition of Penang.
The arrival of SuperStar Virgo was witnessed by Penang Chief Minister Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon.
The chief minister was later taken on an exclusive tour of the luxury liner, his first ever official tour onboard.
The maiden call is very significant as SuperStar Virgo will bring Penang additional tourism benefits, thus further reinstating the island as an important tourist hub, said Koh.