International operators regain confidence in Chinese market as growth, orders start to soar
International cruise operators said they are optimistic and confident about the long-term prospects of the Chinese cruise industry, as bookings have been consistently growing and they are developing more in-depth shore excursions to adapt to market demand.
US-based cruise line operator Royal Caribbean International said after China optimized its COVID-19 response measures and reinstated quarantine-free cross-border travel in January, the demand for cruise trips among Chinese travelers has been steadily increasing.
More than 100 key outbound travel agencies are now cooperating with Royal Caribbean to promote and sell overseas cruise itineraries. From January to present, some 10,000 passengers of non-group guests have booked the company's overseas itineraries, with sales reaching 52 million yuan ($7.5 million), it said.
"It will still take some time for the industry to fully recover to pre-pandemic levels and the resumption progress of related services such as international flights and visa applications will also impact Chinese travelers' booking of overseas cruise trips," said Liu Zinan, senior vice-president of Royal Caribbean Group and chairman of Royal Caribbean Cruises Asia.
International cruise trips that depart from Chinese mainland home ports in Shanghai and Shenzhen in Guangdong province, had been given the green light to resume after an over three-year suspension, according to a notice released by the Ministry of Transport in late March.
Before the full resumption of port itineraries in China, overseas itineraries will be highly sought after and are expected to see an increase in both individual and group travel, especially when international flight capacity increases and ticket prices stabilize, as a large number of Chinese tourists are likely to be eager to experience overseas cruise products, Royal Caribbean said.
Europe, Asia, the Caribbean, Australia and Alaska stand as the most popular destinations when Chinese travelers take cruise trips abroad. Asia's largest cruise ship Spectrum of the Seas is currently porting in Singapore until 2024, giving Southeast Asian travelers easier access and more sea-travel options to explore the region, Royal Caribbean said.
Regular stops include Port Klang — the gateway to Kuala Lumpur — Penang in Malaysia and Phuket in Thailand. According to Royal Caribbean's data, Spectrum's Southeast Asian itineraries are the most popular overseas itineraries among Chinese consumers.
"The reason might be attributed to easier visa application, closer-to-home distance and accessible flight expenses. We found that 47 percent of the bookings were from families with kids," Liu said.
According to a research report from the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, the contribution of international cruises to China's economy reached 35.8 billion yuan in 2019.