Full steam ahead for China's cruise market

TIANJIN, Oct. 28 (Xinhua) — On Friday, Royal Caribbean’s multimillion-dollar cruise liner, Quantum of the Seas, arrived at northern China’s Tianjin port, where it will embark on the first of four round-trip voyages scheduled to last until mid-November.

Not even the approaching cold weather could hinder the international cruise line’s efforts to enter China’s booming leisure market.

China’s cruise market is developing quickly despite an economic slowdown, with the number of passengers growing from several thousand in 2005 to 1.72 million in 2014, figures from the China Communications and Transportation Association showed.

By 2020, the cruise industry is expected to contribute 51 billion yuan (8.30 billion U.S. dollars) to the country’s economy, the association said.

“China’s cruise market has expanded from one ship with 900 cabins in 2006 to eight liners with 18,000 cabins in 2014,” said Zheng Weihang, vice president of the China Cruise & Yacht Industry Association. “And it will continue to grow.”

Royal Caribbean’s business in China has achieved twofold growth nearly every year since entering the market in 2009, said Liu Zinan, president of north Asia and China at Royal Caribbean International, adding that the company is tailoring its onboard restaurants and activities to Chinese customers’ tastes.

The company will send a larger ship, Ovation of the Seas, next year to Tianjin after it is put into service, according to Liu.

Costa Cruise Lines has also seen sharp business increases in the past three years since entering China 10 years ago, according to Huang Ruiling, General Manager of China Costa Group Asia Pacific & China.

The company is continuing to increase its cruise capacity by 50 percent annually, she said.

Yue Tong, a 30-year-old white-collar worker from Tianjin, said he enjoyed spending an afternoon on the cruise reading poetry with free pizza and coffee available.

“There are many things to do, activities to participate in, and performances to watch on the cruise, and you can choose either to have some quiet time or join the crowd,” he said. “Life is really colorful on the ship and you’ll never be bored. However, the on-shore activities are less wonderful.”

The growing popularity of cruises has attracted domestic investors.

In October 2014, the China State Shipbuilding Corporation (CSSC) announced its plan to form a joint venture with American cruise company Carnival Corp. to build China’s first luxury cruise ship.

The plan aims to develop the country’s cruise industry and foster new growth areas for the Chinese economy, said Hu Wenming, chairman of CSSC.

Hu said China currently needs about 50 luxury cruise ships, and the number is expected to rise in coming years.

The booming industry is also helping to transform China’s ports.

So far, China has seven international cruise home ports, with two in Shanghai and one each in Tianjin, Sanya, Xiamen, Zhoushan and Qingdao. Another three international cruise ports are being built in Shenzhen, Haikou and Dalian.

Zhang Zhendong, general manager of the Tianjin international cruise home port, said that so far this year, the port has received 340,000 passengers on 74 cruises, and the port is expected to receive 650,000 visitors on 150 cruises in 2016.

The transformation from a single port to a comprehensive terminal will be crucial for the future development of China’s cruise industry, he said.