Chinese market a boon for cruises in 2024

The golden age of the China cruise market, which boomed between 2013 and 2016 –“enjoying 70 per cent growth every year” – may be enjoying a renaissance as 2024 Lunar New Year (LNY) outbound trip themes point to family travel and cruising as the “dark horse”.

According to China-centric B2B digital marketing services specialist Dragon Trail International (DTI), the top international cruise route during LNY was Shanghai to Okinawa, and the newly launched Adora Magic City, the first-ever made-in-China large cruise ship, received a lot of attention.

Adora Magic City saw a huge demand from Chinese travellers during the Lunar New Year period

DTI observed that Adora Magic City features Chinese-style designs, strong Chinese catering and Chinese entertainment that include mahjong facilities and a Chinese comedy show.

Sienna Parulis-Cook, director of marketing and communications, commented that cruising appeals to multi-generational Chinese family travel because the safe and comfortable environment, as well as the catering and activities for everyone, make it easy to take both young children and elderly parents abroad.

When Royal Caribbean opened bookings for its 2024 sailings, family suites were the first rooms to sell out, she said, adding that 2024 Royal Caribbean booking data shows the May Labour Day holiday and summer holiday season as the most popular times of the year for outbound cruising.

She attributed the 2017 ban on Chinese cruises to South Korea, one of the most popular destinations, as the key factor causing the market’s slowdown.

Now, there is no longer any ban on cruises and group travel to South Korea.

As of 2017, Japan and South Korea accounted for over 85 per cent of all cruises departing from China.

Parulis-Cook noted: “These once again are the most popular destinations, and we don’t expect this to change dramatically, especially given the dominance of short trips.

“Looking ahead, there may be more development of longer cruise routes to South-east Asia. Beyond the mass market, however, it should be noted that China was the second-largest source market of visitors to Antarctica prior to the pandemic, and this past summer saw a surge of interest in Antarctic cruises, departing from Argentina.”

She continued: “In March 2023, (Chinese OTA) Fliggy reported that searches for Antarctica over the previous month had surpassed the same period in 2019. At the peak, Fliggy sold more than 100 Antarctic travel products in just one day.”

B2B is a particularly important sales channel for cruise lines to tap into the Chinese market, and DTI’s cruise-related work is focused on B2B resources for the travel industry.

Parulis-Cook shared: “We have a long-term partnership with the Shanghai Port International Cruise Terminal to co-publish a monthly digital magazine called Cruise Logbook, specifically aimed at updating Chinese travel agents, cruise company executives and academic researchers on developments in the cruise industry.

“We also work with Princess Cruises to manage their online travel agent training programme, Princess Academy, and with Hurtigruten (which distributes exclusively though B2B channels for the China market) on WeChat content marketing, including WeChat Channels videos and article content for Hurtigruten’s official account.”

From 2016 to 2017, DTI worked with Norwegian Cruise Line to promote its made-for-China cruise ship, Norwegian Joy, through a celebrity endorsement campaign featuring pop star and actor Wang Leehom, alongside social media marketing.

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