Help wanted for cruise in­dus­try

Short­age of pro­fes­sion­als rocks China’s ocean and river travel in­dus­try

China Daily (USA) - - BUSINESS - By ZHU WENQIAN in Tian­jin zhuwen­qian@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Wan­der­lust linked to the ris­ing dis­pos­able in­come of the vast mid­dle class of China has cre­ated hu­mon­gous op­por­tu­ni­ties for the coun­try’s cruise, yacht and wa­ter tourism com­pa­nies, but the mas­sive de­mand-sup­ply gap in spe­cial­ist hu­man re­sources is threat­en­ing to drown them.

China is al­ready the world’s fastest-grow­ing cruise mar­ket. By the end of the year, Chi­nese will have bought 1.95 mil­lion out­bound cruise trips, ac­count­ing for more than 50 per­cent of the Asian cruise mar­ket, ac­cord­ing to the Cruise Lines In­ter­na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion.

In re­cent years, Chi­nese bought about 1 mil­lion in­di­vid­ual lux­ury cruise trips an­nu­ally. As per the CLIA data, by 2025, that num­ber is ex­pected to grow to 8 to 10 mil­lion, as up to 200-300 mil­lion Chi­nese will be able to af­ford cruise trips.

Yet, ma­jor cruise lines are wor­ried a lot these days. For, an­other set of fig­ures is ring­ing alarm bells.

By 2020, crews num­ber­ing 300,000 will be needed for China’s cruise, yacht and wa­ter tourism in­dus­tries. These jobs in­clude cap­tains, helms­men, pi­lots, marine en­gi­neers, hos­pi­tal­ity pro­fes­sion­als, per­form­ers, em­cees, trans­la­tors, com­mu­ni­ca­tors and se­cu­rity peo­ple.

The prob­lem has be­come po­ten­tially mon­strous be­cause of in­ad­e­quate num­ber of spe­cial­ist schools and train­ing cen­ters ded­i­cated to the cruise in­dus­try.

An­other rea­son is that ships of dif­fer­ent types re­quire crews of vary­ing sizes, rang­ing from 25 per­cent to 75 per­cent of pas­sen­ger ca­pac­ity.

That’s not all. These days, cruise lines or­ga­nize a va­ri­ety of events and en­ter­tain­ment on­board — beauty pageants, singing com­pe­ti­tions, board games, and all of which re­quire a plethora of pro­fes­sion­als, spe­cial­ists, ex­perts, or­ga­niz­ers and im­pre­sar­ios.

For in­stance, Geneva-based MSC Cruises, whose ships bring global tourists to China and take Chi­nese to other coun­tries, said it would need an ad­di­tional crew of 5,000 by 2017, in­clud­ing 750 Chi­nese to serve main­land tourists, and 32,000 more by 2022.

“We are ac­tively look­ing to set up part­ner­ships with hos­pi­tal­ity schools in China, and we will re­cruit, de­velop, and re­ward skilled peo­ple. We have de­mand at both en­try-level and mid­dle-man­age­ment po­si­tions. They are from di­verse coun­tries and speak dif­fer­ent lan­guages, and this cre­ates a chal­lenge in terms of lan­guage skills of our crews,” said Gianni Ono­rato, CEO of MSC Cruises.

“Brands live or die based on their crews’ per­for­mance, and a ship re­quires­many spe­cial­ist roles. The train­ing and work ex­pe­ri­ence of cruise staff are crit­i­cal.”

What might com­pli­cate the sit­u­a­tion is that cruise liner crew­shave to be away from home for long pe­ri­ods of time, which makes this field seem less at­trac­tive rel­a­tive to other ca­reer op­tions.

Chi­nese in­creas­ingly pre­fer healthy and di­verse forms of en­ter­tain­ment and travel.” Wu Qiang, gen­eral man­ager of China State Ship­build­ing Corp

“Cruise staff usu­ally need to sign a long-term con­tracts and take time away from home,” said Ono­rato.

In ad­di­tion to short­age of tal­ent, other prob­lems like the lack of bal­ance in cruises’ or­ga­ni­za­tional struc­tures, dearth of mech­a­nisms to fos­ter tal­ent, poor fo­cus on cruise-spe­cific cour­ses in hos­pi­tal­ity man­age­ment col­leges, and ab­sence of rep­utable in­sti­tu­tions are com­pound­ing the in­dus­try’s wor­ries.

“There are many higher ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tutes that launched sub­jects re­lated to in­ter­na­tional cruises, but as part of ho­tel man­age­ment, tourism man­age­ment or English lan­guage cour­ses. There are no spe­cial­ist cour­ses yet in sub­jects like cook­ing on cruises, cruise mar­ket­ing and cruise man­age­ment. Such pro­grams are still un­der de­vel­op­ment,” said Ma Kui­jun, pres­i­dent of Tian­jinMar­itime Col­lege.

“Be­sides, most schools have no clear cruise per­son­nel train­ing or ori­en­ta­tion cour­ses. It would be good if dif­fer­ent col­leges fo­cus on their own ad­van­tages and fea­tures, and de­sign dis­tinct pro­grams and teach­ing ma­te­ri­als for nu­mer­ous po­si­tions on the ships.

“In ad­di­tion, we need teach­ers whoare ex­perts in cruises, not gen­er­al­ists with su­per­fi­cial knowl­edge of cruises. Be­sides the­ory, prac­ti­cal train­ing is im­por­tant too, with­out which stu­dents can­not bring value to cruises when they even­tu­ally land a job.”

An­other weak link in the chain is that many hos­pi­tal­ity man­age­ment col­leges do not have di­rect cam­pus place­ment agree­ments with the for­eign cruise com­pa­nies that cur­rently dom­i­nate China’s wa­ter tourism mar­ket.

In­stead, col­leges deal with in­ter­me­di­aries or ho­tels.

Shi Jiangy­ong, vice-pres­i­dent of the Shang­hai Univer­sity of En­gi­neer­ing Science, said: “Col­leges and (cruise) en­ter­prises should forge long-term co­op­er­a­tion. Schools should ori­ent them­selves to the in­dus­try’s spe­cific needs, fa­cil­i­tate com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween em­ploy­ers and stu­dents, and pro­vide stu­dents in­tern­ship op­por­tu­ni­ties at cruise com­pa­nies.”

AgreedWu Qiang, gen­eral man­ager of China State Ship­build­ing Corp. “Chi­nese in­creas­ingly pre­fer healthy and di­verse forms of en­ter­tain­ment and travel. Ocean travel will be a crit­i­cal el­e­ment of that trend,” Wu said.

Ac­cord­ing to Ono­rato of MSC Cruises, there is still room for op­ti­mism amid all the wor­ries and con­cerns, as the nascent ca­reer op­tion has its bright spots.

“Chi­nese crews will have ben­e­fits like be­ing able to travel on a va­ri­ety of ships around the world. We’ll ro­tate crews through­out our fleet,” said Ono­rato.

TANG KE / FOR CHINA DAILY

Per­form­ers wel­come pas­sen­gers on board cruise liner Chi­ne­seTais­han for a voyage for South Korea in Yan­tai, Shan­dong prov­ince.

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