China Focus：China to enter `cruise era`
China' s cruise tourism business is booming. There is a growing number of tourists; harbor infrastructure is much improved and the government is lending its not inconsiderable support. More or less everyone at the 17th China International Fair for Investment and Trade, running right now at China' s southeast coast resort of Xiamen, agrees that the industry is on the up.
Since Xiamen, Taiwan and Hong Kong set up the "straits cruise ring", the era of Chinese cruising has finally come, said Wang Chi, chairman of the cruise division of China Ports & Harbors Association.
From October, Xiamen will be the home port of four cruise tours, with destinations including Keelung, Kaohsiung and Taichung in Taiwan; Hong Kong; and, in the Philippines, Boracay Island and Manila. It was only two years ago that Xiamen became a cruise destination for the first time.
According to Su Zhijun, official in charge of resource planning with Xiamen Tourism Bureau, the city is constructing a new harbor specifically for cruise ships and is working with Shanghai, Zhoushan, Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan to develop the cruise market together. In five years, Xiamen will have a harbor able to accommodate cruiseships of 220,000 tonnes.
It is not just government support, increasing market potential and improved infrastructure have pushed China's cruise industry forward.
Thirteen provinces and cities from the Chinese mainland and Kinmen, Matsu and Penghu in Taiwan released a package of 70 reciprocal measures to develop cross-strait tourism on Saturday,the first time tourism authorities on the Chinese mainland and Taiwan have got together on policies.
Cruises have become more and more popular among middle-class Chinese tourists in recent years. According to the China Cruise & Yacht Industry Association (CCYIA), from 2006 to 2012, the number of overseas cruises departing from the Chinese mainland increased from 24 to 170, up six times.
In 2012, 285 international cruises arrived at the Chinese mainland, up 8.8 percent year-on-year. That's more than 600,000 cruise tourists from home and abroad, up 31.9 percent compared to the figure for 2011, according to CCYIA.
Cruise tourism is gaining momentum in China and that's agreed by industry insiders around the globe.
"Although Asian cruise market only accounts for about 0.1 percent of the global market, it is developing at a tremendous speed," said Mr William Ng Ko Seng, Chief Operating Officer of Star Cruises. That is the reason Star Cruises plans cruises from Xiamen.
The global cruise market is moving eastward. The center for the cruise industry will shift from the Mediterranean and the Baltic to Asia. That's the opinion of Wang Chi, who believes that cruises from Xiamen will attract cruise enthusiasts to fly there from every corner of the world.
"The cruise industry may become a new driving force for Xiamen in the near future," said Wang.
Cruise tourism not only brings profits from tickets, but means opportunities for other industries such as food and beverage.
Industry leaders are quick to point out challenges Chinese cruising faces.
"The first thing we should do is to improve infrastructure. International cruises are becoming larger and larger," said Lai She-Jan, president of Taiwan Visitors Association.
Lai added that only when infrastructure reaches international standards can harbors on both sides of the strait develop its services to offer customs clearance service for 2,000 tourists per hour.
Wang Chi, on the other hand, said it is difficult to locate target consumers for cruises in China.
"The major cruise tour consumers in the world are elderly people because they have spare time and money. On the Chinese mainland, most of these people cannot afford the expense," said Wang. Cruises usually last for eight days which is a luxury for young Chinese people who have few vacations year-round.