Is tycoon starting a new cruise-related business?

SINGAPORE: Two months after the collapse of Genting Hong Kong – the cruise industry’s highest-profile financial casualty since the pandemic started – another company related to Malaysian tycoon Tan Sri Lim Kok Thay was registered in Singapore.

Called Resorts World Cruises, its name has sparked speculation among industry players over whether it could be a new cruise – or travel-related business.

Kok Thay is the chairman and board executive of Genting Malaysia Bhd and Genting Bhd, also known as Genting Group, which owns Resorts World Sentosa, among other ventures.

He was also the chairman and chief executive of cruise operator Genting Hong Kong.

According to documents seen by The Straits Times, Resorts World Cruises was incorporated in Singapore on March 9 this year and held by shareholder Two Trees Family Holdings.

Two Trees Family, an investment holding company incorporated in Singapore on March 19, 2021, listed Kok Thay and his son Lim Keong Hui, along with Gerard Lim Ewe Keng as directors.

The shareholder of Two Trees Family is an Isle of Man entity, Summerhill Trust.

Gerard, who is not related to Genting’s Lim family, is director of Kien Huat Realty, a private investment vehicle through which Kok Thay and the Lim family control Genting.

E-mailed queries to Kok Thay, Keong Hui, Gerard, Genting and Genting Malaysia went unanswered.

But some in the local cruise travel industry, such as Dreamcation Cruises and Tours, have heard talk of a new cruise operator.

“But there’s no official statement. It’s just rumours that a new cruise operator is coming but we cannot confirm,” said a spokesman for Dreamcation.

Asked if Kok Thay is starting a new travel-related business or if Singapore Tourism Board (STB) is in talks with him about this, Annie Chang, STB’s director of cruise, said: “STB is committed to develop Singapore’s cruise industry and retain our reputation as a cruise hub in Asia.

“We remain confident in the potential of the cruise industry and are continuing our efforts to anchor more cruise ships in Singapore.”

Dreamcation was among travel agencies here that had to deal with close to 500 affected passengers whose booked cruises for March through August this year went up in smoke after Genting Hong Kong’s cruise line, Dream Cruises, ceased operations in early March.

“We are still owed money for unfulfilled cruise packages and other fees, and are waiting for Genting Hong Kong’s liquidator to get back to us,” the Dreamcation spokesman said.

“But there’s no reason to not support the new cruise operator, if there is one. Borders are reopening and we have confidence in the cruise industry,” he said.

Even though Kok Thay has taken a hit in the cruise business, it is just one part of the Genting empire, which started in the 1960s with a casino resort in the mountains near Kuala Lumpur set up by his late father, Tan Sri Lim Goh Tong.

Kok Thay and his father worked to grow and diversify the business into one of the world’s largest gaming and entertainment conglomerates.

Today, Genting operates casino resorts in Britain, Singapore and the United States, where the US$4.3bil (RM18.3bil) Resorts World Las Vegas opened in June last year.

Kok Thay founded the firm that would later become Genting Hong Kong in 1993, partly as a way of diversifying risk away from the casino business.

He began by buying ferries from a bankrupt cruise firm to operate them under the Star Cruises brand, according to Bloomberg. Over the years, Genting Hong Kong expanded its fleet of ships, bought other cruise lines and even added a string of German shipyards to build its vessels.

Now, more than two years into the pandemic, the cruise operator is being wound up, and Kok Thay, who owns 76% of Genting Hong Kong, stepped down as its chairman and chief executive on Jan 21.

Its winding up application on Jan 19 followed the insolvency of its German shipbuilding subsidiary.

This came after Genting Hong Kong and the German state failed to agree on a rescue package for MV Werften, one of a few yards worldwide that can build large cruise ships.

Genting Hong Kong said the insolvency triggered cross-default on about US$2.78bil (RM11.8bil) of debt.

Global cruise operators were hit hard as travel demand had dried up when most borders were shut in the past two years.

Genting Hong Kong suffered a record loss of US$1.7bil (RM7.2bil) for the year ended Dec 30, 2020. But two months after Genting Hong Kong’s winding up application, Resorts World Cruises was registered in Singapore.

However, it may not mean that Kok Thay has immediate plans to re-enter the industry, according to a former employee with a Genting Hong Kong subsidiary, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“This could be preparation for a new business. Lots of people expect him to start a cruise business again,” she said. — The Straits Times/ANN

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