However, while Asia may be unexplored territory for many cruise owners and ships service suppliers, Wilhelmsen Ships Service (WSS) is established in the region and already servicing numerous local and international cruise customers across the entire Asia Pacific region.
Boasting an industry-leading cruise-specific ships agency network, spanning over 20 countries in the region including Australia, China, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Taiwan and Thailand, WSS covers over 140 ports.
WSS’s cruise-dedicated teams across the region offer a full range of agency and husbandry services including crew change, passenger embarkation/disembarkation, crew/passenger medical arrangements and advice on CIQ procedures, as well as the handling of supplies and ship spares.
In addition, WSS’s agency staff can organise the delivery of the company’s marine and safety products, Unitor and Nalfleet chemicals and maritime logistics, along with offering bespoke localised services.
It is however in China, Asia’s largest economy, where WSS’s unique blend of expertise, regional knowledge and global network really stands out.
China’s go-to agents
Home to a population of almost 1.4 billion people and a staggering 600 million in the 25 to 54 age bracket, more than twice that of the U.S, China offers enormous opportunities for the cruise business. The Asia Cruise Association estimates that the Asian market could grow to 3.8 million by 2020, with 1.6 million of that figure coming from China alone.
However, in a recently de-regulated agency market packed with a multitude of small local agency businesses, finding the right partner who can match local knowledge to standardised service levels and strong governance principles can be a challenge.
It is why in just over a decade WHSS China, a joint venture between Wilh. Wilhelmsen ASA and Huayang Maritime Centre (HYMC) has proved to be such a success, handling over 4,500 port calls a year.
With nine agency offices in China servicing the key cruise ports of Shanghai, Qingdao, Dalian and Sanya, Capt Bi Yuping, Managing Director of WHSS explains that many Chinese ports can pose a real logistical challenge to the uninitiated.
“Different rules are applicable at different ports and not every port follows the ‘first in-first out’ principle, so service levels can differ depending on the contacts that an owner has within a local port”.
Building up such vital working relationships over time with all the ports and relevant authorities enables WSS to offer its customers the same standardised, high quality service, along with timely port information and updates, irrespective of the regional variations in port procedures.
Yuping believes clear communication is key to enabling his team to harness this time served local knowledge.
“There can sometimes be a lack of transparency in port operations and associated costs, with insufficient proficiency in English among many of the local agents and suppliers. This can create headaches for foreign owners or operators who do not have an international agent with local expertise”.
Matching these two competencies is key to WSS’s wider ongoing Asian agency success and it is evident in the company’s agency operations in one of the region’s most exciting up and coming cruise countries, Malaysia.
New market, established routines
With passenger numbers consistently rising year on year and companies such as Princess Cruises extending their sailings to Penang, Kuala Lumpur and Langkawi in 2015, Malaysia is viewed as a key growth area for the Asian cruise market.
Currently representing a number of prominent international cruise owners and operators, WSS Malaysia has been servicing the cruise industry for almost 30 years from its network of ten offices, supporting all the major cruise ports in both Malaysia and Brunei, including Malacca, Langkawi, Tioman Island, Sandakan and Muara.
Time poor, expertise rich
Michael Tay, WSS’s Ships Agency Service Manager for Malaysia, believes his team’s ability to work systematically and efficiently against the clock is one of the things that sets them apart from their competitors.
“Cruise port calls are typically short, with some averaging just 12 hours in port. So, with time of the essence, consistently coordinating the timely and safe berthing of vessels on arrival, with all the necessary local authorities on hand for fast clearance and disembarkation of passengers is vital.”
WSS’s extensive experience and strong working relationships with the country’s ports and local authorities ensures its customers get quick, safe and efficient berthing, clearance and disembarkation.
Being able to offer additional products and services alongside their agency business has also proved to be a key selling point for WSS according to Tay; “In addition to consistently providing agency services under such tight time constraints, we also coordinate the delivery of supplies and services from the wider WSS portfolio. Being able to offer our cruise customers such a complete package of services and products, even during the most fleeting of port calls, has been a key factor in our continued success.”
Looking at a snapshot of WSS’s considerable agency experience and expertise in Asia Pacific’s largest cruise market, China, and one of its most promising, Malaysia, it is clear to see why cruise owners and operators continue to choose WSS as their preferred agents.
The International Marine Purchasing Association is holding a new exhibition in Singapore on May 26th and 27th 2015 for marine purchasing and supply professionals operating in the Asia Pacific. Register to come along as a visitor by visiting the sign up page at www.impasingapore.com/register