Right time for Wallem Ship Agency in Asia

Right time for Wallem Ship Agency in Asia

As the leading cruise ship agent in Asia, Wallem is forging market growth based on partnerships with cruise lines and government agencies that develop itineraries for popular to high-end holidays.

Part of the global ship management major Wallem Group, Wallem Ship Agency’s cruise business is solely based in Asia, where it manages 75% of calls in the major cruise hubs of Singapore and Hong Kong.

Tailor-made services that support the full cycle of cruise operations provide a foundation for building business as the Asia cruise industry bounces back from the Covid pandemic, says Dickson Chin, managing director Wallem Ship Agency.

Dickson Chin, Wallem Group's Ship Agency Managing Director

“We have very good - I would say unrivalled - working relationships with officials and governments that give us that bit of an edge when cruise lines are looking fora trusted and reliable partner in Asia,” he said.

“In essence, we are servicing an industry which is all about customer service and customer focus,” Chin added. Cargo does not speak but the cruise business requires a quick response to any demand.

“We are not only here to attend to a ship, but also work with itinerary planners to look at where we can actually be different for the cruise lines,” he said. It applies whether they are operating luxury yachts, expedition vessels or huge mass market ships.

“We’re working with the people in the office on shore as well as government agencies to try to build this industry for our region.

“Each line is looking for something that little bit different and at the same time we are able to pitch and attract cruise lines to come to each country’s respective ports.”

Wallem Ship Agency is currently making berth reservations for cruise lines on itineraries for 2025/2026 and even into 2027 and sees Asia booming again as a cruise destination for high end heritage brands as well as the mass market.

“I think Asia has everything to offer - as much as any other part of the world - because we’ve got so many different islands and there are so many more places to be discovered,” Chin said. The Philippines has 7,000 islands and Thailand 2,000.

Different cultures, history and foods are attractions within close proximity that ship scan sail between, with a range of ports that can handle the biggest vessels to remote beaches where yachts can get well off the beaten track.

Wallem found its niche in Asia by being in the right place at the right time in2008 when the boom for Asian cruising started, Chin said.

“We were already handling sporadic round of world cruises for the major lines at the time that Hong Kong and Singapore announced they were building new cruise terminals.

“We started to get a good reputation with government officials, so we were asked to come in as a consultant to these projects.”

Wallem was handling up to 30 cruise calls a year then, Chin said, but it is now over  600. It works from offices across the region: in the north in Japan and Korea down to Southeast Asia in such places as Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines.

“We’re definitely seeing an upsurge of luxury ships and I think that is confirmed by the order books,” Chin said, “there are plenty of luxury cruise lines coming through.”

Countries have multiple attractions, but it can be a question of how operators make one place stand out from the rest.

Governments can be pushing for certain ports whilst Wallem is seeking to understand the cruise line perspective: whether it is possible for a ship to go to a port or if it will be restricted by time, distance and therefore the cost of fuel.

It is a “puzzle” that Wallem Ship Agency works to unlock with an operational platform that Chin says is the backbone of a system to ensure it has the correct information and is delivering the right services at the right time and place.

“We can’t just put one boarding agent on a ship as we do with a tanker, bulker or container ship; we have to have a team that supports cruise lines’ operations, not on not only on the ground and on the quay side but also in the back office with the administration.”

The agency needs to be able to support ships’ officers with navigational and communication issues and medical and hotel services for up to1,000 crew and 5,000 passengers on the biggest ships.

“Guests might have come onto an itinerary without realizing they need a visa for a certain port, or they want to do a side trip that they didn’t think about before. We then help the ship get the visas for those excursions.”

Some services are changing, so instead of bringing tours to restaurants from smaller ships to showcase local cuisine, Wallem is seeing requests to bring high end chefs on board to cook, said Chin.

“So, we’re turning this completely upside down because we’re able to cater for smaller and more cozy environments.”

But Chin admits there have been some challenges since the Covid pandemic – mainly due to local partners withdrawing from tourism while business was closed down. He cites a lack of support personnel such as bus operators, drivers, porters, and tour guides in some places.

“We are showing our partners the cruise berth bookings we have, and saying it is important for them to invest in the people to make sure they can deliver the services they are engaged to do,” he said. Wallem is also working with tourism boards to ensure countries are bringing in new tour guides.

“We are beginning to see ships coming back into China,” Chin said, while geopolitical problems in the eastern Mediterranean could mean the normal Asian cruise season from around October/November through to March/April could be extended through to May.

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