Cruise line magnate sails deeper into the vast Chinese tourist market and plans more upmarket offerings
(MA XUEJING / CHINA DAILY)
It is probably fair to say that Loui Lim feels at home in any number of ports.
“I spent my earlier years growing up between Kuala Lumpur and London, and while I consider Hong Kong as my main home, I have an affinity for all three cities. I have been based out of Hong Kong for the past seven years but I travel a fair bit for work, mostly across the United States, Europe and Asia,” he said.
Lim is executive vice-president of Genting Cruise Lines, where he leads the development and design of new ship builds, cruise brands and guest experiences. He is also director at Dream Cruises — a brand under the Genting umbrella. Duties in this role have involved “designing a premium cruise brand specifically for an Asian clientele”.
Born in Australia, the youngest son of Malaysian billionaire Lim Kok Thay, Lim readily confesses to a love of the sea and sailing. It was always on the cards that he would become involved in the family business once he had completed his education.
“It was something that I had always dreamed of, having grown up in the industry. I have been sailing on cruise ships since I was young,” Lim said.
Indeed, that globetrotting existence during his formative years has surely helped equip him for the myriad challenges he faces in his pivotal dual role in the family’s luxury cruise line business.
After completing a bachelor’s degree in architecture and a master’s in management, both in London, Lim spent several years at Deutsche Bank in Hong Kong as part of its ECM (equity capital markets) team — assisting companies such as insurance company AIA in the launch of its IPO in 2010.
“Interestingly, my colleague at Deutsche Bank was a former architect whose work I studied while in school. I would say that both architecture and banking were useful in developing a skill set that I still put into practice today,” Lim said.
With a strong background in business and investment banking, Lim is well placed to oversee the family’s ambitious plans to attract tourists to its newest cruise liner, Genting Dream, and its recently launched luxury travel brand, Crystal AirCruises — with its first private jets hitting the skies last year.
A significant part of Lim’s charter will be to tap deeper into the vast Chinese tourist market.
“As my family business increasingly shifts focus to China tourism, I am excited to introduce the art of cruising to a whole new audience in China,” Lim said.
In fact, tourists from the Chinese mainland and Hong Kong account for more than 50 percent of Dream Cruises’ business.
“Our number of Chinese passengers will only continue to grow as we designate more cruise ships to China. By growing the domestic Chinese cruise market, we are hoping to also convert them to cruise other markets, as we expand our cruise ship itineraries globally.
“For example, our next cruise ship will be able to accommodate more than 7,000 guests. It will be based seasonally out of China and Australia.”
Weighing 200,000 tons, the size of this vessel will eclipse the dimensions of flagship Genting Dream, which weighs 150,000 tons.
“We expect to see a large increase in guests from the inner cities of China over the coming years, as we work to develop the rail-cruise and fly-cruise sectors with the local governments.”
An important part of the operation is to secure well-serviced ports in prime locations — something Lim has helped the cruise line achieve.
“Dream Cruises has adopted a dual-homeport strategy between Guangzhou and Hong Kong to accommodate the differences in peak seasons across China. From 2016 to the end of 2017, Genting Cruise Lines has brought more than 600,000 passengers to Guangzhou.
“Under (Genting’s) Star Cruises brand, we currently have SuperStar Gemini in Xiamen and Star Pisces in Hong Kong, with the flagship SuperStar Virgo to service Shanghai, Dalian, Qingdao and Tianjin later on this year,” he said.
For a cruise line to succeed, Lim said it must offer attractions that are equal to, if not better, than any land resort.
On board Genting’s cruise ships, he explained, there are multiple regional Chinese and Southeast Asian cuisines, as well as seasonal dishes designed by Michelin-star chefs. Amenities include Asian reflexology spas, entertainment options such as China’s Got Talent and Chinese celebrity concerts, and retail offerings from high-end brands.
“Being an international Asian company, we understand our Asian and Chinese guests better than most. We offer one-week, destination-heavy cruises, as we have found that our Asian guests prefer shorter cruises with more activities,” said Lim.
His company is also involved in a land-based project in China. It is developing the Genting Resort Secret Garden, a state-of-the-art ski resort in Zhangjiakou, North China’s Hebei province, designed to host the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics. Lim hopes it will introduce skiing to a whole new generation.
Lim has helped his family business ride a wave of success, as the luxury cruise sector has gained marked popularity in Asia in recent years. But as the sector matures, the company is now expanding its repertoire from the sea to the sky.
“Crystal AirCruises is our latest brand extension (offering) around-the-world ‘cruise’ experiences but via private jet,” explained Lim. The service was launched in 2017.
Lim said the company purchased a brand new Boeing 777 jet for the purpose. It is designed to accommodate up to 88 guests and is appointed with leather flatbed seats and a private restaurant and bar situated at the front of the plane.
“We offer unique itineraries such as a double New Year’s countdown in Sydney and Honolulu last year by flying guests back in time across the international dateline.”
Such experiences, however, do not come cheap. Clients so far have included Asian billionaires, as well as sports, music and Hollywood celebrities, said Lim.
With the boom in the luxury cruise sector in recent years, rivalry for market share is intense, and Lim is always mindful that the company must keep evolving its services to cater for a fickle and demanding customer base.
“The industry remains one of the most competitive in the world, with new ships coming out each year claiming to be the best, the biggest, or the most expensive. However, while competitors are quick to copy each other with attractions or facilities, (our) company culture is not so easy to imitate. A great cruise ship requires an excellent team,” Lim explained.
In addition to its Asian operations, the company is also setting its sights further afield by offering customers the option of exploring the waterways of Europe.
“We have also extended our experience to Europe’s rivers for the first time on our brand new river yachts, which are tantamount to luxuriously appointed floating boutique hotels that visit different European towns and villages each day.”
In such a competitive industry, it remains a challenge to stay ahead of rivals and even customer expectations. Greater flexibility is also something customers are demanding.
“Luxury travel is becoming more accessible and affordable, with different price points to suit everyone.”
That said, Lim sees the cruise sector going even more upmarket as customer tastes mature.
“No longer will it be adequate for a guest to be satisfied with the standard amenities of a five-star hotel — they will need to be catered to with an array of enriching and thought-provoking activities and programs,” said Lim.
Over the next five years, he expects the industry to provide greater personalization in servicing guests — from eating preferences to travel habits to individualized room temperatures.
And while bigger is not necessarily better, it does carry a certain cachet in the cruise sector. Lim’s company is planning to unveil the first in a series of new cruise ships by 2020, complete with a number of futuristic features.
“We are currently designing a series of 200,000-ton ships for Dream Cruises, which will be the most technologically advanced at sea, utilizing the latest in artificial intelligence, voice and facial recognition, and the latest state-of-the-art entertainment facilities.”
Lim added: “The ships are purposely designed to appeal to a new generation of cruisers, particularly young families and millennials, who have really embraced cruising.”
Executive vice-president of Genting Cruise Lines
2010: Master of Science in Management, Imperial College London
2009: Bachelor of Science in Architecture, Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London
2018: Currently developing two of the largest, most technologically advanced cruise ships in the world
2017: Launched Boeing 777 private jet at Crystal AirCruises
2016-17: Launched two 150,000-ton ships, Genting Dream and World Dream
2015: Director, Dream Cruises
Who has been your biggest influence?
My father, who is living proof that with hard work you can achieve success.
What drives you in business?
To offer an experience to our guests that they can say is among the best in the world, while proudly waving the flag as an international Chinese company.
Who have you admired most in the business world?
My late grandfather, whose determination, perseverance and humility inspire me to be the best person possible. It is important to treat others with respect and honesty as you work your way up to success.
What is your passion away from work?
I am fortunate that my passion in life is my current job, otherwise it can be overwhelming at times. I would love to find more time for my other passions: photography and painting.
What is your favorite dish when you are in Malaysia?
The Hokkien mee, blackened rice noodles stir-fried with egg, pork, prawn and squid in a thick rich gravy served at Damansara Uptown in Kuala Lumpur is one of the best dishes you will ever try.
Date of birth: Feb 14, 1988