By Christopher Jasper
(Bloomberg) -- The world’s biggest cruise-ports operator is looking to expand in Southeast Asia, a budding hotspot for Chinese voyagers that could eventually rival the Caribbean and Mediterranean.
Global Ports Holding Plc wants to acquire docks in Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam to add more destinations for cruises based out of Singapore, currently the company’s sole Asian port and the continent’s second-biggest embarkation point, Chief Executive Officer Emre Sayin said in an interview.
Demand for cruising, once confined largely to retirees, is outpacing the rest of the leisure sector as keener prices and a wider range of stopoffs and activities broaden its appeal. A growing middle class has led the number of Chinese tourists taking to the seas to triple in four years, putting the country on course to overtake the U.S. as the world’s biggest cruise market by 2030.
“Southeast Asia will become a very important region,” Sayin said in London. “Draw a circle around Singapore and you’ve got an area that’s as big as the Caribbean. We want to open more transit ports there by adding new destinations or even converting container ports to cruise terminals.”
Global Ports has 11 cruise ports in the Mediterranean, plus three in the Caribbean that it has acquired since May last year, including Havana and Nassau.
The company, listed in London with offices in Istanbul and Barcelona, is considering a sale of cargo ports in Turkey and Montenegro as it seeks to raise cash to roll over debt and expand in the cruise market, according to Sayin.
Goldman Sachs is evaluating interest, but trade wars may put a brake on the plan by weighing on the valuation for Port Akdeniz, a key facility for Turkey’s world-leading marble exports. The building material currently attracts a 25% tariff if re-exported to the U.S. by Chinese construction firms.
Global Ports shareholder Global Yatirim Holding AS is separately in talks with more than a dozen companies including private-equity and strategic investors as it looks to sell part of its 60% stake, Bloomberg reported on Nov. 25, citing people familiar with the plan.
© 2019 Bloomberg L.P.