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The project is the latest sign that mainland China is poised to
develop into a major cruise center, after years as little more than
an add-on to Hong Kong-based itineraries.
“China is generating a huge amount of interest,” said Andrew
Poulton, director of strategic marketing for Radisson Seven Seas
In many ways, China may be the sleeping giant of the cruise
business. Although a regular stop for many ships and one of the
fastest growing destinations in the world it’s still relatively
untapped as a cruise market.
“For years, they didn’t have any decent ships in the area,” said
Pat Bennett, partner in San Francisco-based
TheCruiseExperience.com. “But now there are a lot of good ships out
In many ways, 2004 is a banner year for cruises to the mainland.
After SARS washed out the 2003 season, Radisson, Princess Cruises,
Silversea Cruises and Crystal Cruises all included China in
itineraries this year.
This year Princess added its first-ever summer itineraries to
China as part of the Pacific Princess’ world cruise. With three
ships in Asia, Princess will offer rooms for 9,012 passengers on
routes including China this season, compared to a capacity of 5,200
passengers in the 2003-2004 season.
As a destination, China fits many of the criteria for the modern
cruise client, especially those looking to explore an exotic
location. For clients that have already taken cruises on the most
popular European and Caribbean itineraries, China can be the
perfect change of pace.
“People are looking for something different,” said Craig
Mungary, manager of Central Valley Cruise Adventures in Fresno,
Calif. “They’ve done the Mediterranean. They’ve done Alaska.”
As a region, Asia is one of the fastest growing destinations for
cruise companies. In 2002, the cruise lines reported 360,000 bed
days spent in Asia, a 57 percent increase from the year before,
according to statistics compiled by the Cruise Line International
But the CLIA numbers also reflect the ebbs and flows of interest
in the area. In 1987, the cruise lines reported 465,000 bed days in
Asia, a level that hasn’t been touched since. By 1999, the visits
to Asia had sunk to 188,000 bed days, as cruise companies deployed
more ships to Alaska and the Caribbean.
The roller coaster-like numbers reflect the cycles of the
industry, and the desire to rotate ships to different areas to
offer regular customers new choices. Next year, Radisson’s Seven
Seas Voyager will skip China to focus on Australia, Poulton said.
Silversea will stop in China 18 times this year including its first
visit to Shanghai but in 2005 the Silver Shadow won’t be in the
area and the Silver Cloud will probably only make two stops in
“It’s a function of our broader deployment,” said Jim Burnside,
Silversea’s vice president of revenue and passenger services. “We
don’t have a lot of repetition.”
As an exotic destination, cruise companies worry that clients
are unlikely to visit China year after year like they do in the
Mediterranean or Baltic. The sheer distance and expense of
traveling to China also mute the companies’ enthusiasm for
expanding their China offerings.
“I don’t think anyone has really tried to do the China market,”
said Bob Chase, owner of Chase Travel Service in Glendale, Calif.
“They’ve just stuck their feet in the water to see if anybody
The lingering perception of SARS and the avian flu is also
muting the cruise companies’ short-term enthusiasm for China.
“We do feel that there is a strong interest in China,” said
Crystal Cruises spokeswoman Mimi Weisband. “But I think it has been
affected by fear of SARS.”
To help boost its March cruises to China, Radisson was offering
clients their choice of either free economy air from North America,
a free business-class air upgrade or a $1,500 savings off the
cruise fare. But the October cruise is “booking very well,” a clear
sign that the public’s fears are waning, Radisson’s Poulton
The cruise companies are also developing new strategies for
Asia. Star Cruises recently announced that its Hong Kong-based
megaship SuperStar Leo, the largest ship to ever dock in Shanghai,
would move from Asia to Alaska this summer and permanently join the
fleet of Star sister company Norwegian Cruise Line. Meanwhile, the
mid-size Norwegian Sea will transfer to Star.
“Medium-size ships offer greater deployment flexibility and more
diversification of capacity in a developing market where demand
patterns have yet to be established,” according to a Star
Star Cruises is considering using the new Shanghai terminal as a
homeport for several of its ships, according to news reports. Star,
now the third largest cruise company in the world, is reportedly
negotiating to invest in a project to add hotels, shopping and an
entertainment complex to the cruise ship facilities.
The new facilities may vault Shanghai into competition with Hong
Kong and Beijing as a launching port for itineraries.
“Going forward we may consider Shanghai as a turn port rather
than as a transit call,” said Silversea’s Burnside.
The China talk is welcome news for travel agents who say China
is often one of the first destinations mentioned these days by
“I think the demand is there,” said Don Berkebile, a cruise
specialist for the Travel Dynamics Group, an agency based in La
Jolla, Calif. “I have a half-dozen clients right now who want to
know about China.”