The China Merchants-Yidun, a high-end cruise ship, docks at Shanghai Port International Cruise Terminal in Shanghai on April 9. The cruise started its services on international sea routes in June. (Photo/China Daily)
Global itineraries, custom services await experience-oriented Chinese travelers this year
International cruise line operators are stepping up efforts to launch more global itineraries to attract sophisticated Chinese travelers as the latter are increasingly pursuing differentiated and high-quality cruise experiences overseas.
The back-to-back Mid-Autumn Festival and National Day holiday from Friday to Oct 6 have created an eight-day break before the start of the fourth quarter this year, which is expected to see a surge in the number of Chinese tourists traveling abroad and taking cruise trips, industry observers said.
At the beginning of this year, following the adjustment of various policies, Norwegian cruise line operator Viking Cruises became the first cruise company to announce the resumption of outbound European river cruise operations for Chinese travelers.
The company resumed the operation of its river cruise tour on the Rhine River for the Chinese market on June 1. So far, multiple sailings have been either sold out or almost fully booked, especially for the sailings in the fall, it said.
"Based on our experience in the European and American markets in the post-COVID-19 era, we witnessed the demand in the cruise travel market recovering quickly. We believe the Chinese cruise market has huge growth potential and we are confident of Viking riding this growth," said Brendan Tansey, managing director of Viking Cruises China.
"Chinese consumers are increasingly prioritizing value and quality over price. Therefore, we believe that our strategy aligns well with the evolving preferences of the Chinese market, which presents significant growth opportunities for us," Tansey said.
He added that the overall market environment is in the process of recovery, and various policies are also showing positive effects.
"We remain confident in the Chinese market, and China will continue to be one of the most critical markets for the future development of Viking Cruises," Tansey said.
Now, China stands as the second-largest cruise source market after the United States. By 2035, some 14 million Chinese consumers are expected to take cruise trips annually, and the country is foreseen becoming the largest cruise source market globally by then, according to the Cruise Lines International Association.
The port of Shanghai became the world's fourth-largest homeport for cruise ships in 2016. Shanghai is also the largest research and development and manufacturing base of cruise ships in China, with the most complete cruise industry ecosystem and supporting facilities, according to the local government, which aims to further develop the city's port with more comprehensive services.
Before the pandemic, China had been the world's largest outbound tourism market for many years, according to the World Tourism Organization. Since China optimized its COVID-19 response measures and began quarantine-free international travel in January, Chinese consumers have shown significant enthusiasm for international travel.
So far, China has announced the resumption of group tours to 138 countries and regions. The latest list released in August included popular European destinations such as the United Kingdom, Germany, Austria and the Netherlands, and those countries have seen heavy bookings of related travel products for the upcoming eight-day break.
"The booming growth of outbound tourism means that while boosting consumer confidence, it is expected to help promote the recovery and growth of the Chinese economy as well as global tourism and economic development," said Dai Bin, president of the China Tourism Academy.
Compared with other ways of traveling, cruising through Europe on a river ship offers a journey that crosses various destinations without the need for packing, unpacking and intercity transfers, said Viking. The company also said it has a distinct advantage because it offers customization for the China market.
The company said a cruise ticket basically covers everything that guests need during the trip, which includes onboard accommodation, meals, entertainment, Wi-Fi and shore excursions.
"We are not just simply resuming operations after the pandemic. Instead, we have taken full consideration of the feedback from our past guests, restructured or upgraded some product experiences of our Rhine River itinerary launched this year," Tansey said.
"Considering that the language barriers could hinder Chinese travelers from gaining a deep understanding of the local history and culture, we are offering services in Chinese throughout the journey, from onboard experiences such as all Chinese-speaking hotel operations team, Chinese signage and menus, to onshore guided tours."