M’sian cruises eye green light in time for holiday season

Business expected to be brighter next year as operators plan cruises to international destinations such as Thailand and Singapore


CRUISE operators said they are ready to open for business as the government rolls back Covid-19 restrictions on the tourism sector, but hope it will come in time for their busiest quarter.

Cruise ships were among the first to be grounded as part of the national battle against the pandemic two years ago and are still not allowed to operate.

Penang Port Sdn Bhd CEO Datuk Sasedharan Vasudevan said Malaysia’s domestic cruise is among the last to open in the region compared to neighbouring countries.

“Singapore reopened its ‘cruise to nowhere’ at the end of last year with some Covid-19 safety protocols. But Malaysia is still not allowed to open,” Sasedharan told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR) in a phone interview.

He said Penang Port had submitted an application in April this year that included its Covid-19 protocols to handle passengers and operate, but the reimposed Movement Control Order 3.0 has postponed the approval.

Sasedharan said even though approval to operate may be late, the industry hopes it will come in time for the sector’s traditionally busiest time at the end of the year.

“We are ready to welcome the passengers for our cruises. Our cruises and crews are all prepared for the reopening. We have submitted the SOPs (standard operating procedures) guidelines to the National Security Council (NSC) and we are now waiting for the approval.”

Sasedharan said the reopening of the cruise industry would be an alternative attraction for domestic travel, although they can’t operate at total capacity.

“According to the NSC’s SOPs, we can only operate at 30% capacity. Normally, the number of passengers onboard is around 700 to 900, but now we have to reduce it to 300 passengers. Therefore, we will need to sustain the number of frequent cruises sailing to accommodate the cruise passengers.”

Sasedharan said the cruise industry will also catalyse other domestic industries and spin-offs for the economy.

“Cruise travel is a spin-off business related to several other businesses such as taxis, e-hailing, catering, food suppliers and laundry. For example, boarding cruise passengers will take a taxi to reach the cruise, which automatically involves the taxi services,” he said.

On the business outlook, the cruise industry expects to see better results for the upcoming quarter.

“We have prepared for the worst, but we are positive for the upcoming months as it is always our best-performing quarter, given the holiday season as well as the reopening of the industry,” Sasedharan said.

Moreover, Penang Port’s cruise ship terminal worth RM155 million under its joint venture with US-based Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd has also been completed.

Sasedhran said business would be on the brighter side for the next year as they plan to cruise to international destinations such as Thailand and Singapore.