Two international luxury cruise operators will sail to China next year, a sign of the growing importance of the Chinese cruise market.
Royal Caribbean Cruises will add the 138,000 ton luxury cruise ship, Voyager of the Seas, to its China route next year. This ship is doubled the size of the Legend of the Seas, which is currently the largest cruise ship that goes to China.
The 3,114 passenger ship will be based in Shanghai in June 2012 to operate itineraries ranging from 4 -10 nights. Royal Carribean hopes to attract more new Chinese cruise vacationers as well as regular cruise guests from around the world.
Another cruise lines, Genoa-based Costa Cruises will introduced the 75,000 ton Victoria to China next year. This move will increase its capacity by 40% in China.
According to Michael Bayley, executive vice-president of the Royal Caribbean Cruises, China has “huge untapped potential” because it has a far lower penetration rate than the more mature cruise markets of Europe and the United States. “We are encouraged by the increasing number of Chinese tourists who choose our cruises and the positive feedback we have received from the market,” he said.
Last year 223 cruises came to mainland China, up 43% year-over-year according to Wu Wenxue, vice president of the China Tourism Association.
The number of Chinese traveling on cruises increased 20% to 790,000 last year. “Cruise travel will embrace a golden period in China over the next five years,” Wu said. “Traveling overseas on a luxury cruise will become the choice of more Chinese tourists.”
International cruise lines have started to cater to Chinese passengers including providing more Mandarin services on board, authentic Chinese food and culturally appropriate recreational activities and duty-free items.
For some travelers, cruising is a viable alternative to hotel stays. “My friends recommended cruise travel to me. It is more worthwhile spending a night on a ship than staying in a hotel,” said Li Jinyu, a traveler from Shenzhen about her first cruise to Hong Kong, which at 1000 yuan or $157 for a two-day cruise was enjoyable and affordable.
The government has also given their nod of support and now allows foreign cruise operators to set up solely foreign-owned companies in China.
While the cruise industry holds much promise, there remains challenges — foremost is educating the public about cruise travel. There are misconceptions of what cruise travel is and the luxury amenities cruises offer. Often consumers associate cruise travel with the Yangtze River passenger ships.
The Voyager of the Seas will introduce several unique concepts new for cruises in Asia, including the Royal Promenade, an indoor “main street” stretching nearly the full length of the middle of the ship; “Studio B” Ice Rink, an ice skating rink for guests that doubles as a 700-seat venue for ice show productions; 11 dining venues, including the three-story, 1,919-seat main dining room. The ship also features an Inline skating track, Royal Caribbean’s signature rock-climbing wall, a nine-hole mini golf course, a golf simulator, a full size sports court with basketball court, three swimming pools and six whirlpools.
So the first step is to get the local travel agents on board — training them and having them provide more guidance to Chinese travelers.
image credit: royal caribbean