Ctrip is the newest entrant into Chinese cruise market. Plans have long been in the works for China’s largest on-line travel platform.

Announced last November as SkySea in a joint venture with Royal Caribbean, the company starts service this May with Celebrity Century.

Ctrip had set eye on cruise market in 2013 when it founded SkySea Holdings with Stone Capital, a private equity company based in Shanghai that invests for the wealthiest entrepreneurs and families in China.

The establishment was kept quiet until the partnership with RCI was announced. Both Royal and Ctrip each have a 35% stake in the new venture. Stone Capital holds the remaining 30%.

Vice chairman, president and co-founder of Ctrip, Min Fan, was announced as the new chairman and CEO of the company. Management staff comes from both Royal Caribbean and Ctrip.

According to Min Fan, through the strategic partnership with RCI, they would tailor-make “the best cruise experience suitable for Chinese tourists”. He added Ctrip would provide the marketing network, technical expertise, customer base and high level of service. Royal Caribbean would handle operations and crew management. 

Min Fan expected half of the passengers in the future to be from China. Last year the number of Chinese travelers reached 90 million. This number will probably exceed 400 million within the following five years. 

Prior to sailing for SkySea, the Celebrity Century will be refurbished in Singapore. Changes include renewing the restaurants to make the meals more appetizing to Chinese tourists. New amenities will include a trampoline at sea and mini-golf.

The target audience of SkySea is the middle- to high-level cruise market with a focus on the 30 to 60 year-old high-end consumers. 

Fan revealed plans to add a ship a year, at first acquiring vessels from other lines but eventually building own.