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Asia is the fastest-growing cruise market in the world, and international cruise lines are building partnerships with Chinese companies to create experiences custom-tailored to the Chinese cruiser.
Most cruise companies have created specialized brands for the Chinese market, but MSC Cruises is looking to retain its branding internationally.
It has formed a strategic partnership with Caissa Touristic Group, which entails the homeporting of MSC Lirica in Shanghai beginning in May 2016. The ship will be renovated to fit Chinese standards, but still retain its MSC branding.
While MSC Cruises has had a presence in China since 2010, the new agreement will customize the cruising experience for the Chinese market.
“The idea was to work together with Caissa to get a ship built and dedicated to local guests’ needs while representing the best-in-class MSC Cruises experience aboard,” MSC Cruises USA president Rick Sasso told Skift. “MSC Lirica has been totally renovated, with dining, entertainment, guest service and hospitality all adapted to Chinese preferences.”
The 2,600 passenger MSC Lirica will operate with the highest percentage of native Mandarin-speaking guest-facing staff members in the industry and offer a variety of Chinese dining and entertainment options.
Competition in the Chinese cruise market has heated up as more Chinese have started cruising.
Royal Caribbean Cruises signed a deal with Ctrip last November to form a joint venture known as SkySea Cruises. Each owns 35 percent of the cruise line, which began sailing out of Shanghai beginning in May on the SkySea Golden Era, a vessel refurbished from the former Celebrity Century.
“We look forward to working with Ctrip, a Chinese travel leader, to build a national cruise line for China,” said Richard D. Fain, chairman and chief executive officer of Royal Caribbean Cruises, when the deal was announced. “SkySea Cruises represents an important strategic milestone in our expansion efforts in the Chinese market.”
Royal Caribbean will have five ships of its own homeported in China in 2016, including the new Ovation of the Seas.
Carnival Corp. signed an agreement in early 2015 with China’s oldest state-owned travel enterprise, China Merchant Group, to assess whether the two should develop a new cruise line for the Chinese market or build a new cruise port together.
Carnival Corp. already has four ships homeported in China and will add another two in 2016.
MSC Cruises is not looking to spin off its well-recognized brand into a line aimed only for the Chinese market.
Caissa Touristic operates in many Chinese cities including Beijing, Guangzhou, and Shanghai, which is China’s top cruise port. MSC Cruises is the world’s largest privately owned cruise line, with 13 vessels currently at sea.
“With this partnership with Caissa Touristic we are entering the Chinese market in a different way from the competition: We have a strong local partner that is also global, we have a long-term plan, and we have a refurbished ship specifically dedicated to this market,” said Sasso. “We wanted a partner to design a perfect product for guests based on their experience and know-how of the market. We are helping with our network and our already established structure in China and will be sharing the on-board operations with Caissa.”