SINGAPORE – First there were flights to nowhere, now there are cruises to nowhere.
This week Singapore announced a pilot program of round-trip round-trip cruises to the city-state. Capacity would be limited to 50% and passengers would have to be Singapore based.
The move is a fresh attempt to increase the demand for travel amid an infected coronavirus pandemic 36 million people around the world and crippled the global tourism industry.
In order to participate, cruise lines must obtain a mandatory safety certification and undergo an audit before they can begin sailing. Genting Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean International are in the process of receiving this certification, according to the Singapore Tourism Board.
"Since the announcement, the calls have come in continuously. Also online inquiries. So that's very encouraging," said Michael Goh, President of Dream Cruises at Genting Cruise Lines, on CNBC's "Street Signs Asia" on Friday.
Dream Cruises' World Dream ship will be the first to sail from November 6th, followed by Royal Caribbean International's Quantum of the Seas from December.
Goh claimed that once the cruise is ready to sail, it will be one of the stiffest travel options available due to the numerous safety measures that are in place. This includes mandatory Covid-19 tests for passengers and crew, frequent and thorough cleaning, and 100% fresh air ventilation – all of this is required in order to receive the so-called CruiseSafe certification.
"This will be the safest vacation option," he said. Unlike hotel stays, Goh said, "the cruise ship itself is a destination, it has an integrated facility," which includes multiple water slides, zip lines, climbing walls, as well as dining areas and musical performances.
In the early days of the pandemic, cruises were hotspots for the spread of the coronavirus. For example, more than 700 people were infected on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which was quarantined off the coast of Japan.
If the capacity is reduced, it is unlikely that first trips will be profitable. Goh told CNBC the priority is to regain consumer confidence and gradually increase utilization. He said that Dream Cruises' Explorer Dream ship in Taiwan, which has already resumed operations, has increased its load factor from 50% initially to almost 90% now.
With a mix of different room types aboard the World Dream in Singapore, increased occupancy and the tendency for Singapore passengers to spend on food and drinks on board, Goh said he was confident the ship would be operational in the near future.
A similar experience was reportedly investigated by Singapore Airlines, which would involve a flight route that would take off and land from Singapore's Changi Airport. Local media reported that the pandemic-ridden airline has suspended its so-called flight to nowhere and will instead open a restaurant on board one of its parked Airbus A-380 planes.