Overbooking of cruise ships needs to be reviewed after 100 passengers were recently denied boarding by Dream Cruises, says Singapore’s consumer watchdog.

The Consumers Association of Singapore said that following the incident it was perhaps “timely” for the relevant authorities and service providers to review the practice of overbooking and how consumers can be protected in our tourism and hospitality industry in Singapore.

In the 4 September incident, the 150,700-gt Genting Dream (built 2017), which can accommodate 3,352 passengers, was due to depart Singapore for calls at Port Klang and Penang before returning to Singapore.

“While the practice of overbooking is not unusual, this could not have come at a worse time for affected consumers,” CASE president Melvin Yong said in a Facebook posting.

“The offer of a full refund and a complimentary cruise by Resorts World Cruises may not address the concerns of some consumers who have taken leave and were expecting to have a good vacation with their friends and family.

“With this overbooking incident coming on the back of Singapore relaxing its Covid-19 measures and coinciding with the September school holidays, consumers are understandably frustrated,” he added.

There are currently no regulations for the practice of overbooking and how affected consumers should be compensated.

Consumers can only rely on conditions of carriage or insurance coverage which may not be entirely in their favour.

“The relevant authorities should consider regulating the practice of overbooking and how affected consumers should be compensated, as is the case in the US and Europe,” said Yong.

“Service providers like Resorts World Cruises should review the accuracy of their backend algorithms that may be based on outdated data.

“They should also cater for a bigger buffer in light of peak holiday seasons as well as the pent-up demand for vacations after more than two years of Covid-19 travel restrictions,” he added.

Singapore and the wider Asian region are still struggling to rebuild their cruise operations in the region in the wake of Covid-19.

Southeast Asia saw its first port calls by cruise ships in over two years in early July when Royal Caribbean’s 169,000-gt Spectrum of the Seas (built 2019) called at Port Klang in Malaysia.

The Singapore Tourism Board (STB) said it expects the cruise industry in Singapore to return to pre-pandemic levels between 2023 and 2024, given discussions to resume similar calls in more ports across the region.

Prior to Covid-19, Singapore’s cruise industry enjoyed robust growth with over 400 cruise ships across 30 cruise brands called at its ports in 2019, with year-on-year growth in passenger throughput of more than 1.8m that year.

Since Singapore restarted cruising in November 2020, over half a million passengers have sailed on nearly 370 ‘cruise to nowhere’ sailings.