At 7 a.m. on March 4th 2016, more than 4,000 Chinese tourists arrived via Quantum of the Seas for Royal Caribbean International, a large-capacity luxury cruise ship at Hanjin Terminal in Songdo, Incheon. The Chinese tourists traveled and shopped around Seoul before returning to Shanghai at 9 p.m. on the same day. The 167,000-ton, 6,100-passenger ship will travel to Korea from Shanghai, China, 44 more times this year.
“More than 80,000 tourists visited Korea in January alone. This year, some 1.5 million cruise tourists are expected to come to Korea,” Park I-rak, director of the marine tourism division of the Korea Tourism Organization (KTO), said.
The number of cruise tourists stood at 9,040 in January last year and surged to 80,280 in January this year. The government is making various efforts to sustain this momentum. For example, the KTO have taken part in Seatrade Cruise Global, the world’s largest cruise industry fair, on March 14-17 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in the United States.
At the event, the KTO had a booth to promote Korean tourism, with the help of 30 tourism representatives from Busan, Incheon, Gangwon Province, South Jeolla Province and Jeju Special Self-Governing Province, all of which have dedicated cruise ports. They promoted various tourism products and services, such as “hallyu” (Korean wave) or Korean cultural content, medical tourism and beauty treatment services.
The KTO has diversified the country’s cruise destinations, from the current popular port cities such as Incheon, Jeju and Busan, to new ones such as Yeosu in South Jeolla Province, Sokcho and Donghae in Gangwon Province and Pohang in North Gyeongsang Province.
The Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries has also recently announced a plan to boost the cruise industry. It aims to attract more than 2 million foreign cruise tourists next year by hosting the world’s leading cruise vessels and expanding local ports, to help Korea become a key destination for cruise passengers from around the world.
The ministry also said it will strengthen its overseas marketing strategy to lure more cruise visitors to Korea. It will also build four new cruise docks on Jeju Island and in Incheon and Sokcho by 2017 to cater to the growing number of travelers to the country.
“The government will step up its efforts to promote the cruise industry by launching Korean cruise liners and upgrading the infrastructure,” the ministry said.
Under the plan, the ministry will attract more international cruise ships by next year and train 2,000 crewmembers by 2020.
This year, some 908 cruise vessels are expected to enter Korea, a surge from last year’s 409 vessels. This year, the Ovation, which is as big as the Quantum of the Seas, will enter the Busan port 23 times and Incheon port eight times.
According to a survey by Cruise Market Watch, the number of cruise passengers
worldwide rose from 19 million in 2011 to 22 million in 2015. The figure is expected to grow to 24 million in 2018.
The cruise industries in Asia, among others, are rapidly growing owing to Chinese travelers’ rising demand for cruises in the past few years. The number of Chinese cruise passengers is expected to reach 2.3 million this year, up from 1 million last year.
“As the cruise markets in the U.S. and European regions become saturated, cruise ship operators are turning their eyes to China,” an industry watcher said, declining to be named for this article.
According to a survey released by the KTO in 2014, a foreign cruise passenger who stops over at a Korean port spends an average of $1,068 during his or her stay.
The Korean cruise industry still has a long way to go, however, owing to an insufficient legal system, as well as infrastructure. Opposition against casinos on ships remains an obstacle to the development of the industry. Under Korean law, locals are not allowed in casinos, except for Kangwon Land in Gangwon Province.
Also, to ease the entry of international cruise passengers to Korea, immigration procedures need to be relaxed.
The ministry said pilot cruise ship Costa Victoria, jointly operated by Lotte Tour, Hana Tour and Costa Cruises, will set sail in May; it will travel twice from Donghae and 13 times from Busan. From these Korean cities, it will to either Japan or Vladivostok in Russia before returning to Korea. The ministry estimates that some 30,000 travelers will board the cruise ship.