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  • Writer's pictureJason Leppert

China’s Cruise Market is Shaking up the Industry

PHOTO: Norwegian Cruise Line’s new Norwegian Joy is dedicated exclusively to the Chinese cruise market. (photo by Jason Leppert)

While China technically achieved the status of second largest source market for cruising in 2016, the news is once again popping up, particularly among local sources.

It definitely remains big talk in the industry because it affects other significant segments.

In May of this year, Seatrade Cruise News reported how 2.1 million cruise passengers were Chinese, slightly beating out the 2.02 million from Germany, 1.89 million from the U.K. and 1.29 million from Australia. By comparison, the U.S. still greatly dominated with 11.52 million—at least for now.

The cruise industry has traditionally developed to satisfy demand. The bulk of cruise lines and, by extension, cruise ships have been built for Americans over the last several decades with a handful of brands dedicated to foreigners.

The U.K. had once held the number two spot behind the U.S., which accounts for the likes of P&O Cruises and Cunard Line’s British history. However, Germany now holds the spot and has its own lines such as AIDA Cruises while P&O Cruises Australia services its namesake.

The U.S., U.K., German and Australian markets all established themselves slowly. Interest from China has come on relatively swiftly, and cruise corporations are now trying to keep up with it.

The makeshift solution was sending old ships from existing brands to cover the growth, but the Chinese now expect more. That’s why newly dedicated vessels like Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Joy and Princess Cruises’ Majestic Princess are starting to come online.

Western corporations such as Carnival are going further by even developing an entire line just for Chinese travelers with new vessels to be purpose-built for the market.

In fact, projections show that China could eventually overtake the U.S. numbers. People’s Daily Online cites a report from Shanghai International Shipping Institute that claims the country will be the biggest market by 2030.

With so many resources being earmarked for China, some may wonder how it will affect the U.S. cruise world.

Theoretically, it could mean fewer new ships for our own market, but it’s more likely everyone will get fleet boosts, not fewer. The cruise industry is growing overall, and while China requires more ships to satisfy, so does America.

Remember, new cruise lines like Virgin Voyages are also on their way.

Of course, the difficulty in building new vessels for several international markets across the board is the limited amount of shipyards that can construct them all in a timely manner. Even with China getting into the mix, there is a relative shortage of facilities to keep up with the pace. It would be super costly to build cruise ships in the U.S. compared to abroad, but that option could become a consideration if things get desperate enough.

In the meantime, existing shipyards are building frantically for all the markets.

Even if there remains enough ships to go around for each growing global market, China is definitely changing the means in which those fleets are developed on the backend.

This post first appeared on TravelPulse.

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