Singapore leads on responsible ASEAN cruise policy

Ms Christina Siaw, CEO of Singapore Cruise Centre
Ms Christina Siaw, CEO of Singapore Cruise Centre
SCC was voted the Best Cruise Port for the second year running by readers of the trade publication, Travel Weekly Asia
SCC was voted the Best Cruise Port for the second year running by readers of the trade publication, Travel Weekly Asia
SCC’s HarbourFront Terminal has also received the Green Mark Platinum certification from the Building and Construction Authority
SCC’s HarbourFront Terminal has also received the Green Mark Platinum certification from the Building and Construction Authority

Singapore is on a path to enhance its port operations sustainability. Michele Witthaus learns what that means for the city’s cruise business.

Singapore is a port that has been in the news lately regarding sustainability initiatives that are likely to boost the port’s sustainability. In January 2018, the Port of Singapore Authority (PSA) announced plans to install a solar photovoltaic system at its terminals to reduce the terminals’ carbon footprint. The port estimates that the new system will be operational from the end of October this year.

In February, PSA revealed its commitment to a range of technological strategies, including data analytics, digitalisation, connected community systems, automation and robotics, to optimise operations and ensure more efficient port clearance.

Carbon tax

These innovations follow a 2016 decision by the Government of Singapore to impose a carbon tax on power producers and large carbon emitters in the port city. Singapore joins more than 67 other jurisdictions in implementing carbon pricing as a tool to reduce carbon emissions, with a carbon tax of S$5 per tonne of greenhouse gas emissions set to be imposed from 2019.

In the context of these decisive moves towards sustainability in the commercial area of shipping in the city, cruise tourism is also in the spotlight for sustainable development. At the ASEAN Tourism Forum 2018 held in January in Chiang Mai, Thailand, Singapore (which is chair of the body in 2018) led a joint ASEAN Declaration on Cruise Tourism that commits participating countries in the region to clearer and more transparent cruise policies and regulations.

The declaration also calls for fairer and more responsible administration processes and business practices, requiring tourism destination management to consider environmental and social sustainability issues and the welfare of local communities.

Cruise tourism is seeing rapid growth in Singapore, which received 411 cruise calls in 2016 at its two terminals, bringing 1.2m passengers to the city. According to a study by the Singapore Tourism Board reported in trade media, the cruise industry contributed S$706m in direct spending to the city’s economy in the same year, an increase of more than a third since 2012.

Singapore benefits from having two cruise terminals serving distinct markets. Established in 1991, Singapore Cruise Centre (SCC) is the longest established cruise terminal serving the city, with responsibility for the Harbourfront cruise terminal that welcomes small and medium ships, as well as the regional ferry terminal at Tanah Merah. (The city’s other cruise terminal, Marina Bay Cruise Centre (MBCCS), was built in 2012 to accommodate the growing number of larger vessels visiting the city.)

Engaging policymakers

“We believe Singapore is well-positioned to actively engage policymakers and the entire cruise tourism value chain in Southeast Asia on sustainability issues in the industry,’ says SCC’s CEO Christina Siaw.

“As a primary home port for the region’s larger cruise ships, Singapore can play an instrumental role in influencing itinerary development and the selection of key routes which prioritise sustainable tourism and protect the region’s natural and cultural heritage.”

Regarding her organisation’s contribution to the goals in the ASEAN Declaration, she says: “SCC supports Singapore’s drive to spur port and destination development in the region. We recognise that dialogue and collaboration among destinations and countries is key to sustainable cruise tourism development in ASEAN and we will work with all stakeholders to achieve the goals of the joint ASEAN declaration.”

Thanks to the agreement signed last year with sustainable energy provider Sunseap Group, SCC will purchase 100%of Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal’s energy requirements via a hybrid offer utilising both solar power and supply from the grid, including exploration of the potential for hybrid ferries.

SCC’s HarbourFront Terminal has also received the Green Mark Platinum certification from the Building and Construction Authority. “As a cruise terminal operator, we support cruise lines in their efforts to go green by providing environmentally friendly facilities as and when required,” adds Ms Siaw.

Efficiency

In October 2017, SCC was voted the Best Cruise Port for the second year running by readers of the trade publication, Travel Weekly Asia. Ease of embarkation and disembarkation, as well as its efficient immigration and baggage claim, were the key factors driving the vote. In 2014, the terminal was voted Asia’s Leading Cruise Port at the World Travel Awards and in 2016 it was recognised for best turnaround port operations at the Cruise Insight awards.

Ms Siaw says that SCC has always welcomed dialogue and collaboration with its partners and stakeholders. “We constantly engage them and seek their feedback on how they can mitigate environmental impacts and develop awareness of responsible cruise tourism.”

“We have honed our processes and deployed innovative ways to cope with the increase in passengers over the years. We also work with transport providers, ground staff and the authorities to enhance transportation infrastructure, manage passenger traffic and alleviate congestion, particularly during peak periods.”

The sustainability of any port facility requires cooperation, not only with partners and stakeholders but also with competitors and other actors in the market and this is especially the case where there is more than one terminal managing cruise traffic.

Much of the recent growth in passenger numbers in Singapore is attributable to cruise calls at MBCCS. In the five years since its inception in 2012, the purpose-built terminal has welcomed two million passengers on 500 ships, with calls increasing each year. In the financial year ending March 2017, there were 147 calls, a 33.6% increase year-on-year. Singapore’s cruise berth capacity has doubled thanks to the opportunity the terminal provides for more and larger ships to visit the city.

Cruise impact

Ms Siaw says that SCC is concerned about the environmental impact of the cruise industry on the city and region.

“Cruise travel in Asia has grown at a rapid pace over the last few years as travellers from China, India and Southeast Asia take to cruising in a big way. In addition, to meet the growing demand for cruising, the industry trend is increasingly towards the deployment of larger cruise ships.”

“The growth of the industry has led to negative impacts on the environment and Singapore is not spared. Globally, cruise ships consume millions of tons of fuel and produce almost a billon ton of sewage.”

She believes that the sustainability commitments of the Singapore government will be good for the cruise business in the region.

“Singapore Cruise Centre (SCC) is supportive of the government’s initiatives and has taken steps to be more environmentally friendly in our day-to-day operations. For instance, we invest money and resources to clean the waters within our defined areas by removing debris and measuring pollution levels. We also use energy-efficient lighting in our terminals.”

Reliable systems are a big part of Ms Siaw’s vision for successful implementation of Singapore’s ambitious sustainability aims.

“We have consistently been recognised for our ability to deliver efficient port services to cruise liners and their passengers, ensuring they can make a quick turnaround and therefore reducing their fuel consumption when they are in port. We work with our partners to aggregate best-in-class services and supplies for cruise lines to make quick and easy procurement at our terminal.”

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