Global cruise lines have been feeling the pressure on pricing as more competitors enter China. Still, MSC Cruises is betting that the market will be ready for a second ship from the line in 2018.
More ships are lining up to sail in China, even as the market struggles to adjust to huge increases in capacity.
MSC Cruises was the latest to make a new move into the fast-growing market, announcing Wednesday that it will send a second ship to China in May of 2018.
MSC Splendida, which can hold 3,274 passengers at double occupancy, will visit ports in China, Japan, and Korea. The Geneva-based operator did not say what its exact itinerary will be or where it will be based.
The privately held company made its first foray into China with MSC Lirica in May. The 1,984-passenger vessel is sailing in Tianjin for the season with “cruise ambassadors” who speak Mandarin, luxury retail, and dining options that cater to local cruisers.
It is not clear what changes Splendida will undergo in preparation for its entry into the market, but MSC said in an announcement that the ship will be renovated in 2017 to “further improve and customize” the onboard experience. The ship launched in 2009.
The vessel will include the company’s exclusive ship-within-a-ship section, MSC Yacht Club, which offers high-end services such as a personal butler, private onboard areas, and priority boarding and exiting from the ship.
In a statement, CEO Gianni Onorato said the decision to send another ship showed the company’s commitment to “this key growth market.”
“MSC Splendida represents a second, strong step towards meeting the growing demand for our unique product and ultra-modern ships by Chinese guests,” he said.
Onorato said Splendida has been the most popular MSC ship for Chinese and other Asian passengers who sail in the Mediterranean.
Wednesday’s news follows MSC’s announcement last month that it was opening an office in Shanghai and appointing a president to oversee operations in the region.
Several of the company’s competitors have already been building their business in China, including Royal Caribbean International, which has deployed two of its newest ships as well as some older tonnage. Costa Cruises has been operating in China for several years, and both Princess Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line will launch a customized vessel next year. Carnival Cruise Line will start sailing there in 2018.
AIDA Cruises, a German line owned by Carnival Corp., was scheduled to base a ship in China next year, but announced recently it will stay in Europe instead.
Cruise operators have said Shanghai in particular has been getting so many new ships so fast that prices — which once earned boasts from executives — were forced to fall.
Still, executives have reiterated that they are optimistic about long-term prospects in China. Carnival Corp. CEO Arnold Donald said during an earnings call earlier this year that occupancy levels have stayed high and earnings have been proportionate to capacity growth.
“Overall, China remains a robust opportunity and we’re still at the very, very beginning of it,” Donald said in June.
Photo credit: MSC Splendida is shown in Malta. The ship will sail from China starting in 2018. Roderick Eime / Flickr