Pearl of the Orient loses shine as 866 cruises stop visits


Pier pressure: Swettenham Pier Cruise Terminal at the north-eastern tip of Penang, bereft of cruise ships. — Pic courtesy of Se Vena Networks Sdn Bhd

Pier pressure: Swettenham Pier Cruise Terminal at the north-eastern tip of Penang, bereft of cruise ships. — Pic courtesy of Se Vena Networks Sdn Bhd

GEORGE TOWN: The number of cruise ships which called on Penang this year dropped by 866 from last year raising concerns that Penang is losing its lustre as a destination for cruise line operators.

The sharp slump meant that Penang saw about 500,000 fewer cruise passengers than last year’s glowing record.

Last year saw 1,985 cruise ship calls and this year, with only a month left, only 1,119 calls were recorded since the end of October.

Not counting trips by Taipan and Leisure World, the two small cruise ships homeported in Swettenham Pier that make frequent “cruises to nowhere” from here, Penang saw only 154 international cruise ship calls until October compared with 202 last year, a drop of about 25%.

A source in Swettenham Pier Cruise Terminal (SPCT) said cruise ship calls were below expectations almost every month this year.

“Overall, there are fewer. Last year, we had several cruise ships wanting to berth on the same days during the peak season.

“This year, we had none of that,” he said.

He said the port operator expected 19 cruise ships to call in October but only seven came.

The fall in cruise ship calls meant fewer passenger arrivals.

Last year, 1.2 million visitors came ashore. This year, only 726,538 landed from cruise ships.

The revelation of this sharp drop received mixed reactions from industry players.

When in Penang: Tourists riding trishaws as a cruise ship towers above in the background in George Town.
When in Penang: Tourists riding trishaws as a cruise ship towers above in the background in George Town.

Malaysian Association of Hotels Penang chairman Khoo Boo Lim wants the figures to be thoroughly studied.

“Cruise ship arrivals don’t affect our member hotels much, but the passengers make up part of the bread and butter of retailers in the George Town heritage enclave and keeps the local scene buoyant.

“We have to find out why cruise ship operators are making fewer calls to Penang,” he said.

Association of Tourism Attrac­tions Penang president Ch’ng Huck Theng asked that tourism players “do not jump the gun”.

“Let’s dissect the figures. We even have visitors from Thailand and Vietnam coming now. Let’s have a better look at the statistics and see what’s going on.

“Maybe it is just a global downturn in cruise ship business. Penang is one of the top destinations in the region and we should be doing well because of the weaker ringgit,” he said.

Penang Tourist Guides Associa­tion president P.C. Chin seems to agree with Ch’ng.

“Don’t worry. The best tourism ringgit value comes from airport arrivals. Visitors who come by air will spend two or more nights in Penang. They eat and shop more.

“Cruise ship arrivals don’t spend much on F&B and shopping because the ships take good care of them.

“Tour buses and tour operators make the most from cruise ship arrivals but from our experience, other tourism players don’t stand to gain as much,” she said.

State Tourism Development Committee chairman Yeoh Soon Hin said Penang Port had projected more than 2,000 cruise calls at SPCT this year, higher than last year’s 1,985 calls.

“The number usually picks up during the peak cruise season from mid-October until January. It is the winter season in Europe and we can expect a higher number of arrivals at year-end,” he said.

He said the prospect of cruise tourism was positive for years to come, with the expansion of the pier expected to take off during the first quarter of next year.

“It will be able to accommodate bigger cruise liners, and complemented with duty-free facilities, possibly boost numbers in the future.

“We believe that our port and cruise industry has an edge compared to others as the pier is within George Town’s Unesco World Heritage Site.

“We believe that our port and cruise industry remains one of our strengths,” Yeoh said.

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