River Cruises Becoming More Popular, Particularly In Inland Regions Like Sichuan Province
Despite its inherent potential — owing to the country’s mind-bogglingly huge population base — many tourism sectors taken for granted in other parts of the world are still trying to gain a foothold in China. From RVs to scuba diving — which has actually become far more popular in recent years — attracting domestic tourists who previously did not have the means or interest for trying new activities has been an uphill battle. For cruise lines — both international and domestic — this has also been the case.
Although Yangtze River (长江) cruises have been around for years, many of these cruises have been three-star at best, offering breathtaking sights but not much else. As with virtually everything in the Chinese tourism industry, however, this is changing.
Last year, Jing Daily wrote about the Victoria Jenna — the world’s largest “five-star” river liner — making its maiden voyage from Chongqing, Sichuan province. A four-day, three-night vacation on this floating luxury hotel didn’t run cheap, though: the gargantuan riverboat, which has 2 presidential suites, 38 luxury suites and 160 standard rooms and can hold 400 passengers, offered packages that went as high as US$5,000 for the presidential suite. Far from cut-rate. Despite the high prices, cruises on the Victoria Jenna sold out through the second half of 2009, with demand expected to remain high in 2010.
Interest in cruises has also grown for outbound tourists. In December, Jing Daily noted that Royal Caribbean’s “Oasis of the Seas” — the largest international cruise ship to ever depart from mainland China, would begin regular cruise service between the mainland and Taiwan, and China and Japan. Though small charter ferries have made the mainland-Taiwan trip for some time now, nothing even close to the scale of the “Oasis of the Seas” has ever offered luxury cruise service to Chinese outbound tourists.
This year, we can expect to see five-star and four-star cruise services to become more popular with Chinese tourists, especially those without the time or the money for foreign jaunts. One opportunity that cruise lines are hoping to cash in on this season is the Shanghai World Expo, which organizers hope will attract some 70 million tourists to Shanghai over the course of the expo’s six-month run.
One company, Viking River Cruises, hopes to cash in on tourists’ interest in the event by offering extension packages to their existing river tour itineraries and 2-for-1 cruise tours in time for the expo. Whether this kind of package will appeal more to international or Chinese tourists remains to be seen, but it’s definitely an interesting concept — mixing urban sightseeing at the World Expo with a nature-heavy river cruise.