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Chinese travellers move luxury cruise market east

A travel sector usually associated with a sedate pace, the cruise industry is now being reinvigorated by new markets such as China, new destinations in Asia, and a new experimental attitude.

The cruise market has grown 11% in the past 2 years, reaching $60bn in 2015, and expected to rise to $76bn by 2019. In the last year, the sector has seen better-than-expected growth, with 23.2m people going on ocean cruises in 2015 – a 4% increase on the previous year.

The market has traditionally been dominated by affluent, older travellers from Europe and North America, making up 60% of the global market, according to Euromonitor. American travellers made up half of Carnival’s 2015 sales and 30% of its trips in Europe, but demand has weakened in these mature markets, leading many top cruise companies to turn their attention to the East and target Chinese cruise tourists in particular.  

According to the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), over 2m people took an ocean cruise in Asia last year, up 24% on 2014 and outpacing the global market as a whole.  “While we expected Asia to experience record-breaking growth in cruise travel, we are astonished at the rate at which the region is emerging as one of the most significant cruise destinations and cruise source markets in the world,” said Zinan Liu, chair of CLIA North Asia and the president of Royal Caribbean International’s North Asia Pacific region.

China is now the world’s 7th-biggest market, with potential to become the world’s biggest cruising nation.  Euromonitor forecasts that the Asia-Pacific cruise market will see sales increase 5% through to 2020, while the Chinese Ministry of Tourism expects the number of cruisers to hit 4.5m in the same period. 

In response to clear opportunities in China and across Asia Pacific, cruise companies are moving ships to new regional homeports in Asia and adapting existing ships – or even launching new ones – to better serve the Chinese market. Carnival, the world’s biggest cruise company, now has six ships in China, with a further three planned in 2017 and two more by 2020, while Norwegian Cruise Line will enter the Chinese market with new ship Norwegian Joy by summer 2017 and

The big cruise companies are also having to adapt their practices for Chinese travellers: while European passengers favour indulgent journeys with spa treatments, relaxation and well-appointed bars and restaurants, Chinese passengers prioritise gambling and shopping facilities.

Japan and Korea are among the most popular destinations for cruise passengers’ preferred 5 or 6 day jaunts, and as key shopping destinations for Chinese travellers, many will hit stores and malls at their ports of call, rather than taking cultural excursions. But as the Chinese traveller becomes increasingly curious and demanding, they are likely to expect more than just shopping trips by boat.

Global Blue takeouts:

• The luxury cruise market is heading east with Chinese consumers being targeted at both origin and destination markets.

• Chinese tourists favour gambling and shopping on board.

• Global Blue’s largest cruise ship Tax Free Shopping destinations are Oslo and Bergen in Norway and Singapore, where we expect Chinese inbound numbers to significantly grow in 2017.