Cruise liners set to sail for Japan in the next few months are keeping their fingers crossed after the neighboring country started discharging nuclear-contaminated wastewater into the ocean on Thursday.
While customers have not yet canceled bookings, the cruise trip operators said their primary consideration would be the health and safety of tourists and crew members.
US-based Royal Caribbean International had earlier unveiled its 2024 cruise itineraries from Shanghai to Japan and had opened bookings for holidaymakers, with its first trip scheduled to sail on April 27 next year. This had come after international cruise tours were suspended for more than three years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Royal Caribbean said customers who had already booked trips have not demanded to cancel their reservations as the tour is still eight months away. It said it would follow the wastewater discharge matter closely and take decisions accordingly, keeping in mind the health and safety of its passengers and crew.
Its mega luxury cruise ship, Spectrum of the Seas, specifically designed for Chinese travelers, is making a comeback and, starting April, Royal Caribbean will operate multiple cruise trips lasting four to seven nights to Japanese destinations such as Tokyo, Osaka, Kobe, Fukuoka, Kumamoto, Nagasaki, Kagoshima and Okinawa.
"We have received inquiries from customers about some related issues, and most tourists expressed understanding after receiving the responses. Nothing is more important than the health, safety and experience of a joyful holiday for our guests," said Liu Zinan, senior vice-president and chairman of Asia at Royal Caribbean Group.
"We fully understand the concerns of tourists and will closely monitor the development of the situation. We will take necessary measures in a highly professional and timely manner to ensure that everyone has a safe and unforgettable international cruise vacation," Liu added.
Earlier this month, China announced the resumption of group tours to an additional 78 countries, bringing the total number to 138 countries. The latest list includes South Korea, Japan, the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia.
Since China optimized its COVID-19 response measures and resumed quarantine-free international travel in January, Chinese consumers have shown significant enthusiasm to travel abroad. Following the contaminated wastewater discharge issue, some travel agencies said they do not plan to promote or market group tours to Japan during the weeklong National Day holiday period in October.
Royal Caribbean said the incident has not had a big impact on bookings and the operation of its cruise trips so far. Its global cruise voyages have undergone careful risk assessments and complied with travel safety guidelines of relevant local authorities in different regions, it said.
The route from Shanghai to Japan in April will not pass through the discharge area, and the company will adopt multiple measures to ensure the safety of drinking water as well as water for other use aboard the cruise ship, it said. For the voyage next year, the entire trip will be supplied with water refueled at Shanghai's home port and desalinated in the East China Sea, it said.
The production of fresh water through filtration and purification will use the advanced reverse osmosis system, a commonly used water treatment system that can effectively filter and treat a vast majority of radioactive substances in water, Royal Caribbean said.
Meanwhile, an international cruise tour that will depart from Tianjin to Japan on Sept 30 has seen some customer cancellations. The trip, operated by domestic company Adora Cruises, lasts seven days and will visit Japanese cities such as Fukuoka and Sasebo, according to Tuniu Corp, a Nanjing-based online travel agency that travelers use to book cruise trips.