KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia is paving way to become the preferred cruise destination in Asia, making its mark as one of popular spots for international cruise liners operating in the region.

As cruise tourism becomes increasingly important for Malaysia’s international attractiveness, several cruise companies are recognising Port Klang as an essential destination in their schedules.

Italian cruise liner Costa Cruises has scheduled to sail from Port Klang to various destinations in Southeast Asia. It has announced plans to expand its presence in Asia, offering itineraries that include destinations popular among Malaysian travellers such as Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan.

When officiating at a ceremony early this year, Transport Minister Anthony Loke said Costa Cruises’ designation of Port Klang as an international homeport for the Costa Serena will boost Malaysia’s tourism sector.

He said the collaborative effort between Costa Cruises and Hwajing Travel and Tours Sdn Bhd (HTT) could bring economic benefits and lasting advantages for the country.

Loke said Costa Cruises’ acknowledgement of Malaysia as a promising market, combined with HTT’s established reputation in Southeast Asian cruise tourism, also highlights the shared vision of their collaboration to explore the halal cruise market in the country.

He said the establishment of Port Klang as Costa Serena’s first international cruise homeport is a game-changer, elevating Malaysia to a premier international cruise destination.

“This positions Malaysia as a regional leader in job creation within the cruise industry and is also a shot in the arm for supporting sectors such as accommodation, dining, transport and retail.

“Port Klang’s designation as an international cruise homeport opens doors for collaborative ventures with other regional ports, laying the foundation for a network of intersecting cruise itineraries,“ Loke said.

HTT managing director Kenny Cheong said that by capitalising on the growing cruise tourism market, the company has broadened its cruise offerings through collaborations with Costa Cruise Lines, introducing a diverse selection of travel routes.

“From short weekend getaways to extended voyages across international waters, we aim to appeal to a broader segment of travellers. Notably, we have introduced chartered cruises exclusively tailored to the halal market, further enhancing our offerings,“ he told SunBiz.

Malaysia witnessed unprecedented cruise arrival figures in 2023, with its ports welcoming 1,055 cruise ships carrying 1,520,608 passengers, a 84.78% rise in ship arrivals and a 62.43% increase in passenger numbers compared to 2019 pre-pandemic rates.

As Malaysia grows as a prominent tourism centre in Southeast Asia, the country currently anchors two cruise lines based at Port Klang, with plans to expand further.

Cheong pointed out that Malaysia has a geographical advantage in Southeast Asia and historical significance in the Strait of Malacca as a vital shipping channel, further enhancing its appeal as a cruise destination for accessing a diverse range of regional destinations.

He said favourable conditions for growth are evident with the government’s strong commitment to tourism, including cruise tourism, and the transport minister’s recognition of the industry’s significance.

“HTT’s reputation for offering cost-effective inbound cruises, paired with collaborative partnerships with cruise operators and tourism authorities, further enhances Malaysia’s attractiveness as a cruise destination compared to neighbouring countries,“ he added.