China is soon expected to become the largest global cruise market, according to the head of the world’s largest cruise company.

Carnival Corp & Plc Chief Executive Officer Arnold Donald told China Daily that China will become the dominant market despite the fact it is currently smaller than established markets such as North America and Europe.

“The Chinese market is small today,” said Donald. “But it will grow quickly.” He said Carnival’s cruise capacity in China is expected to grow by 140 per cent from 2013 to 2015.

“We received half a million guests on our ships last year. We expect to have millions in the future.”

Donald’s prediction is backed up by statistics from the China Cruise and Yacht Industry Association. In 2012, the cruise market witnessed a rapid rise in reception volume of 262 international ships, up 17.5 per cent.

That figure represents more than 500,000 inbound and outbound passengers. The number of international cruise ships leaving Chinese ports was 142, an increase of 49.5 per cent year-on-year.

Since 2013, international cruise companies have increased their investments in China, doubling the number of cruise ships, as well as increasing the routes and frequency of sailings.

As a result, the number of Chinese tourists taking cruises was up more than 50 per cent. The major cruise ports in China are Shanghai, Tianjin, Sanya and Xiamen, offering cruises to South Korea and Japan, as well as Southeast Asian countries.

Donald said the strong preference of Chinese tourists sailing on their ships has boosted demand for high-end and luxury retail goods. To meet this demand, Carnival has increased the range of goods on offer.

Carnival was the first cruise company to sail from China back in 2006. It plans to debut Costa Serena in Shanghai, in April 2015, to join Costa Victoria, Costa Atlantica and Princess Cruises’ Sapphire Princess. The move will increase Costa Cruises’ overall capacity in Asia by 74 per cent.

The company will also offer its first around-the-world cruise to depart from Shanghai in 2015, visiting 28 destinations in 86 days.

Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd, the world’s second-largest cruise company, operating six brands including Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises, and Pullmantur, entered the Chinese cruise market in 2008, providing cruises originating from Shanghai and Hong Kong.

In 2015, the company will introduce two ships from its Quantum class and Oasis class to increase its presence in China.

Photo Credit: A man walks in front of a cruise ship docked in Shanghai Port International Cruise Terminal. Aly Song / Reuters