Major cruise lines, including Carnival and Royal Caribbean, have sent an armada of luxury ships to China to tap the fastest-growing market in the world, but they face very turbulent waters. They sail in the shadow of the increasingly volatile politics of the region in addition to satisfying the Chinese passengers' tastes. And soon, a new threat emerges: Chinese companies are constructing their own large ships.
The number of cruise passengers in China has risen 10-fold in 5 years, to about 2 million in 2016. The government expects 4.5M by the end of decade. Most make shorter sailings, 5 days on average, and visit Japan and South Korea, the top 2 destinations in Asia outside of China, according to CLIA (Cruise Lines International Association).
China is still nowhere close to 11M plus Americans who take a cruise each year. Companies are bringing larger and better vessels to the Yellow Sea, seeking new destinations and tailoring their offerings in an effort to persuade Chinese vacationers that a cruise is much more than just a form of transportation.
The latest mega-ship, Ovation of the Seas, complete with robot bartenders and indoor sky-diving arrived for the summer season at her new home port of Tianjin on May 4 after being christened in China in 2016 by actress Fan Bingbing.
But before the newbie Chinese cruisers adapt to life on the ocean, cruise lines have to adapt to local tastes first.