Four of the largest river cruise ships in the world — Yangtze Gold 2, 3, 5, and 6 – have been in the water since June, offering cruisers a street of luxury shops, a golf course, a circuit racetrack and a helipad on board.
But since their maiden voyages, they’ve been mostly empty.
The economic slowdown in China (and the rest of the world) is partially to blame, as is the inundation of luxury cruises on the Yangtze. The new Yangtze cruise ships introduced this year have put an additional 3,000 seats on the Three Gorges that few seem to want.
“For me a luxury cruise ship is way too expensive. I wish they could focus on upgrading the smaller river cruises and make sure they cater to a variety of income groups,” said Luo Menglin, a bank clerk who took a Yangtze River cruise several years ago.
Even the experts say that out-building each other is a bad way for companies to try to fill seats. Instead, they should diversify the experiences that the river cruise ships offer their patrons. “The number of cruise ships that are put into operation should be based on adequate market research,” said Zhang Lingyun, vice-dean of the tourism institute of Beijing Union University. He reported that the interest in the Yangtze has actually decreased since the Three Gorges Dam was put into service to assist in smoother sailing.
Zhang believes the cruise companies might benefit by hosting conferences or other events on board their ship, instead of offering the same homogeneous experience of a moving five-star hotel. To this end, the Yangtze Gold 5 hosted a wedding in August. She Yangyi, a manager at Yangtze Gold Cruises, told Chongqing Economic Times that the company is planning to further diversify its business by renting its cruise ships to individuals or companies.
Chongqing’s tourism authority found that 1.1 million passengers took river cruises to visit the Three Gorges area in 2011, a 60 percent increase from 2010. However, only 446,000 tourists have debarked so far this year, 6 percent decrease year on year. Despite the arrival of several new cruise ships to the Yangtze, the total passenger volume of luxury ships actually decreased by 2.1 percent.
photo credit: yangtze gold cruises