Global cruise lines set sail for China, Asia
Royal Caribbean’s newest cruise ship, Quantum of the Seas, will have its home port in China.
The $935 million ship floated out of aGerman shipyard lastweekandwill spend the winter sailing between New York and the Caribbean before moving to its new base next summer in Shanghai.
It is a brave move for the world’s second-largest cruise company. Cruise operators have traditionally sent older vessels to developing countries while saving their most advanced ships for US and European customers. But surging growth in China means it is a market operators can no longer ignore.
Carnival Corp, the leading cruise company, will become the first global operator to have four ships based in China when it deploys its Costa Serena to Shanghai in April.
The race for China underscores the growing strength of the leisure and travel industries in the world’s second-largest economy, as authorities try to spur domestic spending rather than trade and investment as an engine of growth.
Executives are confident about China’s prospects even as itseconomy struggles with a prolonged slowdown from double-digit rates of expansion, saying that growth is still strong when compared with developed markets.
Miami-based Carnival expects to carry 500,000 Chinesecruisepassengersin2015, upfrom 350,000 this year.
“Weknowthat’s justadrop in the bucket to what lies ahead in terms of the market in China, which we believe is going to someday represent more than half of all the cruise guests,’’ Carnival CEO Arnold Donald said in a phone interview.
The Asian Cruise Associationestimatedlastyearthatthe overall Asian market, which totaled 1.3 million passengers in 2012, could nearly triple to 3.8 million in 2020, including 1.6 millionfromChina.
Carnival is even more optimistic, predicting the number will grow to 7 million, or about a fifth of the global market, by 2020.
“For the next five to 10 years, greater China, including Hong Kong, will play a critical role in the global cruise industry’s development,’’ said Zinan Liu, Royal CaribbeanCruisesLtd’smanaging director for China.
While the US and Europe are showing signs of revival, “there’s no region that will grow as rapidly as China and Asia,” he said.
Liu said Royal Caribbean expects to carry 400,000Chinese cruise passengers in 2015, double the number from last year, from four main ports — Shanghai, Hong Kong, Xiamen and Tianjin.
The company’s 18-deck Quantum of the Seas, which can carry 4,180 passengers, arrives in Shanghai inMay of next year, joining two other Royal Caribbean ships based in China.
It is also expanding operations in Hong Kong to better market to customers in neighboring Guangdong, the richest province in the mainland, Liu said.
For Carnival, the addition of the Costa Serena will raise its China capacity by 3,780 passengers. The company has two other Costa brand vessels stationed in Shanghai.
One factor complicating efforts to pitch cruises to the Chinese mainland is that “the vast majority of the population have no concept of a cruise”, said Donald, of Carnival.
Unlike American or European cruise passengers, who tend to be older and have the time to take two-week journeys, Chinese cruise travelers are younger and have less vacation time. That limits the possible itineraries and presents a challenge.
Shanghai software engineer Cao Ying took a five-day cruise to Japan and South Korea with her husband on Princess Cruises’ Sapphire Princess after he took one with other staff at his Internet company to entertain clients.
The 30-year-old loved the dining, the shows, the spaand the helpful staff. But she complained that there wasn’t enoughtime during port calls.
“I think traveling by cruise is a good experience, but the downside is that you couldn’t really seealot. Icouldn’tgoto visit the places I would like to go in a foreign country,’’ said Cao. “So unless it’s a free trip, I wouldn’t take a second cruise, even to go to another country.’’
Another big complaint is insufficient cruise ports and related facilities. China’s focus in the past few decades on exporting manufactured goods means ports are geared to shipping containers rather than leisure travelers.
Uncoordinated infrastructure development was highlighted when Shanghai opened a new $260 million cruise terminal on the city’s historic riverside Bund in 2008, only to discover that many big ships could not access it because of a low bridge downstream. Another $140 million terminal with two berths opened at the river’s mouth in 2011 to accommodate those vessels. Researcher Fu Ting Shanghai contributed this story. in to