China’s cruise economy embraces rapid development

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On the early morning of March 5, cruise ship Adora Magic City carrying over 4,200 passengers and the MS Westerdam carrying over 2,000 passengers arrived at the Shanghai Wusongkou International Cruise Terminal, joining their peers Piano Land and Blue Dream Star.

On the first day of 2024, the Adora Magic City, China’s first domestically-built large cruise ship, set sail from Wusongkou, marking its commercial maiden voyage. Departing from Shanghai, the ship took passengers on a seven-day adventure through Jeju Island in South Korea, as well as Nagasaki and Fukuoka in Japan.

As the Chinese tourism market fully recovers, cruise vacations have gradually become popular among tourists.

The Adora Magic City can accommodate up to 5,246 passengers. It has 16 floors and over 40,000 square meters of public living and recreation space. Offering a wide range of entertainment facilities such as theaters, swimming pools, gyms, restaurants, and galleries, the ship is exactly a “floating city” on the sea.

Unlike regular passenger ships, large cruise ships are built with hotels and entertainment facilities, offering passengers diverse choices and a pleasant experience. The charm of trips on cruises, compared to other modes of transportation, lies not only in the destinations but also in the journey en route. While sailing on the sea, travelers can enjoy the comfortable environment inside the cruise ships, feel the sea breeze, and admire the sunrise and sunset at sea.

Helen Huang, president of MSC Cruises China, revealed that all cabin spaces of the company’s global cruises reserved for the Chinese market this year had been sold out, as more and more outbound travelers started considering cruise trips.

An insider said that a significant advantage of cruise trips is that they take passengers to multiple destinations in one go. From onboard activities to shore excursions, cruise trips offer tourists a richer and more diverse experience.

According to a report released by the Cruise Lines International Association, approximately 31.5 million passengers worldwide traveled by cruise in 2023, which is 106 percent of the 2019 figure.

It is believed that when the per capita GDP of a country or region reaches $6,000 to $8,000, the cruise economy will develop rapidly. Since 2012, China’s per capita GDP has entered this range.

Facts are also indicating this point. As early as 2006, the Italian cruise ship MS Costa Allegra becamethe first one to enter the Chinese market and received 18,000 Chinese tourists in over six months. 

Statistics show that by the end of 2019, China had become the world’s second-largest cruise market after the United States. It is estimated that by 2035, China will become one of the most dynamic cruise markets globally, with an annual cruise passenger traffic reaching 14 million.

With the deliveries and operation of domestically produced large cruise ships, the supply of cruise tourism capacity has become more abundant. As more and more tourists choose to travel by cruise ship, new demands are constantly emerging. 

From onboard activities to shore excursions, tourists expect more ample time for visiting and a deeper experience of local cultures at destinations, Huang said. In addition, the proportion of young tourists is increasing, and they have higher requirements for accommodation, dining, and entertainment facilities.

Cruise tourism has also attracted many inbound tourists. Recently, the MS Europa cruise ship arrived in Tianjin, bringing over 300 German tourists to visit attractions such as the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven, and Yonghe Lama Temple in Beijing and Tianjin. Some of them also visited the Huangyaguan section of the Great Wall and lived in local B&B hotels. 

It is reported that this was the first inbound international cruise ship carrying overseas tourists to Tianjin since the city resumed cruise tourism in 2023.

This year, Tianjin International Cruise Home Port plans to berth 60 cruise ships and serve approximately 180,000 passenger trips. In order to enhance the customs clearance experience for cruise tourists, Tianjin Customs and other departments have launched a smart travel inspection system, which combines the baggage barcode with the ticket code and border inspection code into a single code, providing more convenience for travelers.

With the introduction of a series of favorable policies for inbound tourism, Viking Cruises, one of the world’s leading cruise operators, recently announced the launch of four coastal routes in China,expecting to lead international tourists on an in-depth exploration of the beautiful landscapes of China this autumn. 

These routes vary in duration from 10 to 20 days and mainly cover regions such as Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong. Through cultural lectures, culinary experiences, and attraction tours, international travelers will have an immersive experience of Chinese culture.



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