Norwegian Cruise Line, which is set to enter the Chinese cruise market with a purpose-built premium cruise ship in June, is partnering with Alibaba for its entry into the market. The partnership will see Alibaba supporting Norwegian Cruise Line with customer engagement, online-to-offline experiences, and data insights.
Norwegian Joy, a cruise ship with capacity for 3,883 guests, was officially delivered to Norwegian Cruise Line last week after being under construction in Bremerhaven, Germany since 2016. The ship is Norwegian Cruise Line’s first ship “custom-designed” for the Chinese market and is described by the company as “combining the best of the East and the West.” After a series of inaugural port tours and ceremonies, the ship will officially be christened during an event in Shanghai on June 27, featuring the ship’s “Godfather,” Chinese pop sensation Wang Leehom.
While the official launch of the ship is given the celebrity treatment, Norwegian Cruise Line hope to leverage Chinese internet giant Alibaba for long-term marketing and product strategies in the Chinese cruise market. “The combination of Norwegian’s expertise in delivering memorable vacation experiences, Alibaba’s insights into Chinese consumer behavior and our travel agents’ knowledge of the preferences of Chinese travelers will create a cruise product unequaled in China,” Norwegian Cruise Line China President David Herrera said in a press statement about the partnership with Alibaba.
In addition to supporting Norwegian Cruise Line with consumer data insights and multi-platform marketing, Alibaba will also play a part in developing online-to-offline (O2O) experiences at Norwegian Cruise Line ships on the global scale. Details on what O2O experiences would involve have yet to be announced, but is likely to include integration of some of Alibaba’s core products, such as mobile payment solutions, online shopping experiences, and other tools that bridge China’s digital population with what Norwegian Cruise Line ships have to offer.
“We are pleased to partner with Norwegian Cruise Line on this tremendous initiative,” said Michael Evans, President of Alibaba Group. “Our expanded relationship is another example of how Alibaba is helping international brands to reach Chinese consumers through our robust data, marketing, and technology. We look forward to further strengthening our collaboration with Norwegian in the future.”
Norwegian Cruise Line’s partnership with Alibaba is one of many examples of how cruise industry juggernauts choose to collaborate with Chinese partners in tackling the booming Chinese cruise market. Other examples include the SkySea Cruise Line, a partnership between Royal Caribbean and Ctrip, and Carnival Corporation’s joint venture with China State Shipbuilding Corporation (CSSC) and China Investment Capital Corporation. Travel-heavy Chinese conglomerate HNA Group has also been reported to be eying investment in an international cruise operator for its reentry into the Chinese cruise market—after-failing to launch an independent, Chinese cruise company.
Norwegian Joy will also test the waters for made-for-China cruise ships, something that has become an industry buzzword. International cruise brands looking to China for future growth have all committed to building or reconfiguring cruise ships with the Chinese cruise market in mind. While Norwegian Joy checks the box for made-for-China, other operators have also partnered with Chinese shipbuilding companies to construct cruise ships made-for-China, made in China. Industry leader Carnival Corporation currently has two Vista-class ships under construction in China, produced in a joint venture between CSSC and Italian shipbuilding company Fincantieri.
For Norwegian Cruise Line, Norwegian Joy will be a crucial test of Chinese tourists’ interest in a premium, Western-style cruise experience with Chinese characteristics. Its competitors, which have already placed big bets on the Chinese market’s lust for such experiences, will certainly keep a close eye on how well Norwegian Joy’s value proposition fares as well.