Consistently high annual growth rate, rosy predictions, solidifying ecosystem, improving infrastructure spell boom
Experiences. That’s what Chinese consumers from the middle-income group are chasing. And chasing them, in turn, are operators of luxury cruise ships with offers of comfort-soaked voyages that guarantee, well, stunning experiences of the Chinese coastline.
Demand is strong in spite of the overhang of COVID-19 concerns, industry insiders said, indicating business opportunities galore for cruise line operators, shipbuilders and related holiday service providers alike.
In a sense, that’s rapid progress for a business segment in China that became the second-largest source of cruise trips just five years back. Over the past 16 years, the annual average growth rate of cruise passenger traffic reached 45 percent, according to the China Communications and Transportation Association.
“In the past 16 years, some 34 international cruise ships have operated in China. The country has built 10 specialized ports for cruises and five ports for both passenger and cargo ships. Another 12 cruise terminals are planned,” said Hu Yadong, chairman of the association.
A new guideline released in August has further boosted the confidence of cruise operators, which plan to develop more tour itineraries to meet growing demand from middle-income experience-seekers in China.
The country will promote the development of cruise tourism markets in coastal cities such as Shanghai and Tianjin, as well as Shenzhen and Guangzhou in Guangdong province; Xiamen and Fuzhou in Fujian province; Qingdao, Shandong province; and Dalian, Liaoning province, said a guideline jointly released by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and four other departments.
Viking Cruises China, the China unit of Norwegian cruise line operator Viking Cruises, is operating through a joint venture with China Merchants Group, which holds a controlling stake.
“We are very glad to see the Chinese authorities have recently issued a new implementation outline to support the industry’s future development. We have pioneered the creation of coastal cruises in China and we see huge growth potential in this category,” said Brendan Tansey, managing director of Viking Cruises China.
The company provides five-day cruises that depart and return to Shenzhen, with a stopover in Xiamen. It also has routes that depart and return to Xiamen, with a stopover in Shenzhen.
“We believe government support would help us to introduce more routes, more trips and develop more world-class passenger ports along the coast to expand the category,” Tansey said.
During this summer, CM-Viking received more bookings from family groups. Usually, it sees a strong demand from senior consumer groups, especially retired professionals and people at the height of their careers. Now, more young couples and newlyweds are coming onboard, the company said.
Gao Shengyi, a young blogger from Guangzhou, went on a CM-Viking cruise this summer. Her five-day trip started in Shenzhen, had a stopover in Xiamen, then returned to Shenzhen, and cost her about 10,000 yuan (around $1,440). The prices vary according to the different types of rooms on offer. The company offers “buy one get one free” promotions.
“I sat at the ship’s bow and savored some fantastic European breakfasts, besides spectacular sunrises and sunsets as seen from the sea. I never experienced such memorable moments ever before, so they were unique in that sense. I also loved having ordered breakfasts in my room. I spent a lot of time at the bars on the ship, where musicians put on different performances. Truth to tell, I didn’t want to disembark the cruise ship when the trip ended,” Gao said.
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