A Cunard cruise ship in Japan. (Shutterstock)
With the summer season in full swing, those in the retail and tourism sector have already seen the impact of Chinese tourist spending. As Chinese travelers become increasingly sophisticated and seasoned, and venture farther afield, many are setting their sights to the sea and joining cruises.
According to a recent report by Agility Research & Strategy, 68 percent of Chinese consumers surveyed plan to book a cruise in the next year. Most plan to travel to the South Korean island of Jeju, followed by Bali and Sydney, Australia.
Japan is already seeing the effects of this burgeoning cruise-ship trend first-hand, as Chinese travelers flood the country by sea as well as air. This year, an estimated 4 million Chinese tourists are expected to visit Japan, with the number arriving on cruise ships rising quickly. As of last year, these Japan-bound visitors hailed largely from top-tier cities, with more than 40 percent coming in from the greater Shanghai area. Beijing accounted for about a quarter of Japanese visas granted.
One of the most popular ships making the journey is Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas, which along with the SkySea Golden Era, will make about 250 Shanghai-Japan trips this year, more than double last year’s 110. This summer the Quantum of the Seas teamed up with China UnionPay to cater to Chinese tourists by providing on-ship China UnionPay ATMs, offering perks such as beverage coupons and supplying special discounts (both on-and off-ship) for China UnionPay cardholders.
In 2014, 91 cruise ships travelled from China to Fukuoka. This year, the port is expecting nearly triple that number. Costa, Royal Caribbean, and others are bolstering their Asian fleets to make all this happen at China speed.
But it’s not just travelers enticed by easy, all-inclusive jaunts to Japan who are powering China’s growing love affair with the cruise ship. More adventurous Chinese tourists are joining cruises to far-flung locales such as the Antarctic, as polar exploration gains popularity among the nation’s wealthy. As of last year, journeys to the North and South Poles made up one-third of the tours taken by Chinese “super travelers.”
A decade ago, only 99 Chinese tourists visited the Antarctic during the 2005/2006 travel season, a number that leapt to 3,042 in 2014/2015, according to the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO). The trips are getting so popular that some tourists are even electing to get married in the Antarctic.
International cruise companies are increasingly upping their game both in the China market and overseas as Chinese tourists travel to more destinations and seek out new and unique experiences.
Carnival Corporation, operator of 10 cruise lines including Holland America Line, Princess Cruises, Cunard, and Carnival Cruise Line, plans to add more ships in China next year to better tap the growing market. Meanwhile, Costa Cruises and Princess Cruises will each add a ship to their China fleet in 2016, for a total of four Costa ships and two Princess ships operating in the region. Together, the two brands will offer about four million passenger cruise days next year to Chinese seafarers.
Princess is also going a step further by launching a new ship especially tailored to the needs of Chinese tourists. Accommodations will be configured to appeal to families and multi-generational travelers, and all announcements will be in English as well as Chinese.
Showing an understanding of the two “S” motivators of Chinese travelers (stomach and shopping), other highlights will include the World Leaders Dinner, traditional English afternoon tea, a Lobster Grill, Balcony Dining, an ocean view hot pot dinner option, ballroom dancing and duty-free shopping.
As Chinese tourists increasingly take to the sea, new opportunities will arise for those targeting this customer – throughout the booking process, and both on-land and on-sea. Look for continued adventure-driven tours from Chinese tourists to increase this year and into the future.
Renee Hartmann is the co-founder of China Luxury Advisors.