Cruise tourism in China is on the rise

The Zhao Shang Yi Dun docks at the Shekou Cruise Homeport on Saturday. Courtesy of China Merchants Group.

In a post-pandemic rebound, China’s cruise tourism industry is witnessing a surge in activity, marked by the departure of numerous cruise ships from various ports in the country. Among these, the “Mediterranea,” operated by Adora Cruises, embarked on a voyage from Tianjin on September 30, 2023. This cruise, characterized by its unique Mediterranean-style experience, global cuisine, and boutique shopping, saw near-full capacity, with over 2,500 enthusiastic travelers on board.

Guo Jia, the director of business development at Adora Cruises, provided insights into their plans, stating, “The ‘Mediterranea’ will undertake four voyages in October to meet the demand of tourists from north China.” This heightened interest from tourists, especially during the Mid-Autumn Festival and National Day holiday season, reflects a notable resurgence in cruise vacations.

A passenger, surnamed Xu, expressed enthusiasm for the experience, noting, “It’s the first time that our family has spent a holiday on a cruise, which is a special experience for us.” Such sentiments echo the broader sentiment of individuals rekindling their love for cruise travel.

The revival of China’s cruise tourism industry extends beyond individual experiences. On September 19, the Ministry of Transport in China announced the full resumption of international cruise ship transport to and from Chinese ports. This, combined with the appealing offerings of cruise companies, has propelled a rapid recovery in the sector.

Notably, the cruise ship “Dream” set sail for the island of Jeju, South Korea, from Tianjin on September 27. On September 29, the “Blue Dream Star” embarked on a journey to Jeju and Shanghai from Qingdao, carrying close to 1,000 passengers. These actions signify the gradual resurgence of China’s international cruise tourism sector.

Ye Xinliang, deputy dean of the School of Management at Shanghai University of Engineering Science, commented, “China’s international cruise tourism sector is fully recovering step by step.” The sector’s revival has also influenced the business strategies of travel agencies. Chu Jiayi, head of Tianjin Nebula Holiday International Travel Agency, disclosed that they secured advance bookings for the “Mediterranea” cruise and sold all reserved tickets well in advance. The influx of tourists primarily came from outside Tianjin, underscoring the widespread appeal of cruise vacations.

Playing a pivotal role in this resurgence is the Tianjin International Cruise Home Port, the largest cruise home port in northern China. It has hosted over 880 international cruise ships and facilitated the movement of more than 4.26 million inbound and outbound passengers. Dong Zichen, deputy general manager of Tianjin International Cruise Home Port Co., Ltd., reported that from September 27 to October 6, the home port received five international cruise ships and welcomed around 12,000 tourists.

Looking forward, the Tianjin General Station of Immigration Inspection anticipates the arrival and departure of 30 international cruise ships at Tianjin port by the end of December 2023. The total number of crew members and tourists is expected to reach 100,000, underlining the industry’s ongoing growth.

The Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) projects robust growth for the cruise sector. The number of ocean-going cruise passengers is predicted to reach 31.5 million in 2023 and 39.5 million by 2027, showcasing the enduring popularity of cruise vacations.

International cruise companies express confidence in the Chinese cruise market. Liu Zinan, chairman of Royal Caribbean Cruises Asia, shared the success of their recent endeavors, stating, “It took less than two months for the travel agency channel to complete the ticket booking and advance payment for all voyages sailing during 2024 and 2025.” This optimistic outlook is shared by Zheng Weihang, executive vice president and secretary-general of the China Cruise & Yacht Industry Association, who envisions a “second golden development decade” for China’s cruise market after two to three years of recovery.

China’s cruise tourism industry is on an upward trajectory, exemplified by the full recovery of international cruise ship operations and the enthusiastic response of travelers. As the sector continues to evolve and innovate, it promises not only high-quality travel experiences for passengers but also substantial economic contributions to the regions it serves.

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This work by Marin Veren is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International.