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4 May, 2012

China’s Cruise Tourism Market Growing 30% Annually

By Li Ling (People's Daily Overseas Edition)

Beijing, May 03, 2012 — Various commemorative activities and the 3-D re-release of the epic romantic movie “Titanic” has made the cruise ship that sank 100 years ago again a hot topic. Surprisingly, domestic travel agencies did not use the 100th anniversary of Titanic’s sinking as a gimmick to promote their products.

“After years of development, our cruise products have matured, and have their own distinct position. Furthermore, cruise products are in excessive supply, and we cannot change their right position simply because of the anniversary,” an employee at a travel agency explained.

Cruise tourism was introduced into China less than 10 years ago. In its early stages, the domestic industry only offered cruises to Asian countries such as Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand through relatively small ships. Sun Lichan, marketing manager at Chinese travel distributor Byecity.com operated by Hua Yuan International Travel Company, recalled that Tianjin became the only home port for cruise ships in northern China in 2007.

In the following year, Hua Yuan Travel leased two Costa cruise ships, and enjoyed great market success, but the two ships were relatively small, and each could carry only 900 passengers. Cruise ships have become increasingly large and luxurious in recent years, with a growing number of destinations such as the United States and European countries. Cruises from China to Japan and South Korea are the most popular products among the Chinese people, while the market for long cruises to the United States and European countries remains small.

“China’s cruise tourism market has been growing 30 percent annually, and still has great potential,” said the director of cruise tourism at Chinese travel agency Ctrip.

Zhang Mingwei, director of cruise tourism at Beijing UTour International Travel Service Company, said that domestic cruise products are mostly short six- to eight-day cruises from domestic home ports such as Guangdong and Shanghai to other Asian countries, and are great for old tourists and first-timers. Short cruises to Southeast Asia where it is spring all year round are suitable for old tourists and entire families. Long around-11-day cruises to Europe or North and South America often require travelers to first fly to originating ports, and are suitable for young tourists, entire families, and experienced cruise travelers.

Most travel agencies have unveiled their cruise products for 2012, including certain exclusive products.

Beijing UTour released some creative tourism products in cooperation with major cruise operators such as Royal Caribbean International, Star Cruises, Hurtigruten, and MSC. These products include the 11-day Legend of the Seas luxury cruise to Japan, Russia, and South Korea that will start in Tokyo on June 2 and will be the only one stopping at a Russian port of call, the eight-day Legend of the Seas luxury cruise to Japan and South Korea that will start on July 14, and the six-day Voyager of the Seas luxury cruise to Japan and South Korea that will start on Sept. 16.

Voyager of the Seas, owned by Royal Caribbean International, is the company’s largest cruise ship for the Asian market, with a gross tonnage of 137,000 tons and a capacity of more than 3,800 passengers. There will be six unique cruise products with different destinations available for domestic travelers during the summer vacation and the National Day holidays.

Ctrip recently announced that it sold more cruise tickets involving the ships of three major cruise operators, including Royal Caribbean International, Costa Cruises, and Star Cruises, in 2011 than any other Chinese travel agency, becoming the largest cruise booking platform in China. It has officially launched a “cruise tourism” channel on its website, and unveiled some exclusive cruise products with Okinawa and Jeju Island as their destinations.

Read the Chinese version at http://paper.people.com.cn/rmrbhwb/html/2012-05/01/content_1043894.htm?div=-1