My annual summer trip to Asia transpired last week. I can always count on two things to be true. First, it is logistically daunting, in this case nine flights and over 48 hours in the air and no stays beyond two nights in one place. Second, it is exciting and rewarding to work with our people in the region to spur the development of our brand and the cruise industry overall.
First I was in Singapore, our Asia/Pacific Regional headquarters. Jennifer Yap and her team have done a very nice job of establishing our presence and the team is looking forward to the return of Legend of the Seas for the winter season. Because Singapore (thus far) allows a large local competitor to require travel agents to sign contracts restricting them from promoting other cruise lines, we have consumers coming into our office to book their cruises directly with us. This is unique amongst our global offices and it was interesting to observe the dynamic between the consumers and our people.
When I first visited Singapore in 1990, it was a strikingly modern city with many gleaming office towers. With the recent opening of their two so-called integrated resorts or IRs, Singapore has graduated to a whole new level of 21st century sophistication. I stayed in the Marina Bay Sands, one of the two IRs, and toured the other IR which is on the island of Sentosa. They are very different from one another, with Marina Bay being more for “MICE” guests – that is, Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions – and Sentosa being more for families. Both IRs have substantial casinos and an array of top notch restaurants and other attractions including a new Universal Studios theme park at Sentosa. The big attraction at Marina Bay is the park that sits on top of the three 57 story towers. Incredible.
Then I shifted to China, traveling first to Shanghai, then to Beijing. In each case I spent time with government officials who are interested in developing the “cruise economy” as they call it; with port officials because the Chinese are seriously focused on infrastructure development; and of course with travel agents because somebody has to find customers to put on Legend of the Seas or there is no cruise economy. It was clear to me that Dr. Zinan Liu and his team have gained significant experience in their roles since I was in China a year ago. This is the brave new world and we have a lot of work to do to capture the huge potential of China as a cruise market.
One night in Shanghai I visited the World Expo with Dr. Liu and his leadership team. This is the World Expo of World Expos. It is to Shanghai what the Olympics were to Beijing. They are projecting 70 million visitors from May to October. Most of the visitors are Chinese but there are many international tourists as well. It is simply enormous. With the benefit of VIP passes we were able to see both the China pavilion and the Japan pavilion in one evening including dinner. Without VIP passes one would have to expect multi-hour lines for any of the principal pavilions. There are multi-stop bus routes inside the complex. It is really something to see the whole world come to Shanghai.
Another night in Beijing, I had a very different experience with an evening function we had for travel agents. What made it notable was that Dr. Liu had arranged for a table tennis table so the Chinese travel agents could torment me. I actually would have been ok if I had brought my own paddle. While everyone knows the Chinese hold the paddle differently, I had no idea that a Chinese paddle has a short, stubby handle to facilitate that grip. To make matters worse, the paddle had dimples on one side and a flat surface on the other side. I did not want to hit with the dimples, so I had to guess where my opponent would hit the ball so I could get the flat surface on that side. Oh brother. I won three of five matches under those conditions. Next year I will bring my paddle.
Finally, I visited my brother who lives in Japan with his wife, daughter and newborn son. My adorable niece mostly speaks Japanese but she knows a good number of English words. From her I learned that animals in Japan make very different sounds than animals in the US. I’m not sure why that should be, but I can now report that cows and dogs do not say moo and woof in Japan.
I got back to Miami exactly in time to see Spain defeat the Netherlands in the World Cup final. Congratulations to Spain. Our colleagues at Pullmantur in Madrid and in Royal Caribbean’s Barcelona office should be open for business again in a few weeks. Just kidding.