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Royal Caribbean seeks Asian port changes

/ Source: The Associated Press

Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. urged Asian countries Friday to improve their port facilities to accommodate larger ships as the company expands its operations in the region to gain new customers.

"It is really important for hubs in Asia to commence infrastructure improvement ... it's a matter of execution at this point," said Adam Goldstein, president of Royal Caribbean, the world's second-largest cruising company.

Asia's port infrastructure is cited by the cruise industry as a major obstacle for ship and passenger capacity, with many ports lacking adequate transportation.

But Goldstein, who also announced the opening of the Miami-based company's Asia-Pacific headquarters in Singapore, acknowledged that another of his company's challenges in Asia was to sell sea cruises as an alternative to land vacations.

"We have that battle ahead of us in Asia," Goldstein said. "Because most people (here) don't understand the value for money, the different activities, all the experiences that you can have."

Goldstein said that the company aims to build its presence in the region through public relations campaigns and advertising. It is also posting international representatives in various locations and setting up an office in Shanghai to tap into the growing Chinese market.

Royal Caribbean says its 1,998-passenger Rhapsody of the Seas will become the largest ship in the region when it begins its deployment in December. The cruise will offer cuisine from the region, Western-style entertainment, and employees who can speak local languages, Goldstein said.

The number of cruise passengers in the Asia-Pacific region is projected to grow by more than 40 percent from 1.07 million in 2005 to 1.5 million by 2010, Royal Caribbean said in a statement, citing a May 2005 study by Ocean Shipping Consultants, a London-based independent consultancy.

Today, the Asia-Pacific region lags behind the Caribbean, Europe and Alaska as a cruise destination. But Asian officials say there is long-term growth potential for a region with improved ports.