Asian cruise market sails to double-digit growth

Japan is the Asian destination seeing the most cruise calls; pictured, ship at Japan's Yokohama Osanbashi Pier

While Asian cruise passenger numbers surged 20.6% to hit another record high of over four million in 2017, overall cruise capacity deployed in the region is expected to decline marginally this year, according to the Asia Cruise Trends 2018 report recently released by Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA).

Between 2012 and 2017, Asian cruise passengers grew from 775,000 to nearly 4.1 million, an estimated 39% compound annual growth rate.

However, China, the main driver of passenger growth in Asia for the last few years, experienced a deceleration last year, adding 286,000 passengers compared to more than one million passengers in 2016.

Japan is the Asian destination seeing the most cruise calls; pictured, ship at Japan’s Yokohama Osanbashi Pier

Still, it maintained its dominance, accounting for 59% of all Asian cruise passengers.

Asia’s other major passenger source markets were Taiwan (374,000), Singapore (267,000), Japan (262,000), Hong Kong (230,000), Malaysia (188,000) and India (172,000).

CLIA observes that the majority (91%) of Asian cruisers sailed within the region in 2017, with intra-regional cruising expected to continue dominating into 2018. For longhaul, inter-regional cruisers, Europe was top choice in 2017 with 25% travelling to the Western Mediterranean, and 9% and 8% respectively traveling to the Eastern Mediterranean and the Baltics.

The Caribbean and Alaska are also popular, accounting for 24% and 11% of Asian cruisers travelling outside Asia.

Shorter sailings were by far the most popular, with the greatest share of passengers sailing four to six nights (66%), followed by two to three nights (26%) and 7 to 13 nights (5%).

In 2018, CLIA estimates overall cruise capacity deployed in Asia will slide 2% versus the planned ship calls in the prior year – although there will be more ships and a broader variety of cruise products in Asian waters.

Most capacity is coming from mega and large ships with six and 19 of them deployed in Asia respectively. As for mid-size ships, 27 are being deployed in 2018.

Small upscale ships will also be active in the region with 21 deployed seasonally, while the expedition niche will have five ships deployed in limited seasons.

In 2018, 7,169 port calls are being made in the region, 27 less than last year. Some 288 different destinations in Asia will receive cruise ships this year, and 24 Asian ports will host 99 or more calls each.

Destination markets seeing the most calls are Japan (2,601), mainland China (1,012), and Thailand (581) in 2018. Top ports with over 300 total calls planned in 2018 include Baoshan/Shanghai (416), Singapore (374) and Keelung/Taipei (322).

In terms of potential for tourist visits, Japan, Mainland China and Singapore are expected to host the most passenger destination days, with their respective capacity for over 4.8 million, 2.4 million and 900,000 passengers.

The volume in South Korea came down from 1.8 million originally scheduled last year to less than 224,000 in 2018.

With the combination of more and larger ships, added cruises and multiple port call visits, the cruise industry will bring 12.9 million passenger destination days to localities across Asia. This will be about 600,000 (or 4%) less than in 2017, according to CLIA.

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