China's cruise market is still in its early days, but the world's biggest industry players are trying to help it mature fast.
The world’s cruise operators have targeted China as the next huge growth market, relocating ships from around the globe or dedicating new ones to ports in Shanghai, Tianjin, and Hong Kong.
One thing has been missing: ships built in China for Chinese passengers.
Carnival Corporation announced Friday that its joint venture in China — which plans to launch a domestic cruise brand — is planning to change that. The coalition signed an agreement to order two new cruise ships built in Shanghai with the option to order two more. The first would be delivered in 2022; no costs were disclosed.
“We are excited about the potential for the first new cruise ships to be built and deployed in China for the enjoyment of Chinese travelers, which will be an important milestone in the development of the Chinese cruise market,” Alan Buckelew, global chief operations officer for Carnival Corp., said in a statement.
He said offering Chinese-built ships “represents a new opportunity for us to generate excitement and demand for cruising amongst a broader segment of the Chinese vacation market, which is already the largest in the world and continues to see strong growth every year.”
The joint venture is a partnership between Carnival Corp., the China State Shipbuilding Corporation, and China Investment Capital Corporation, in which Carnival holds a stake. The ships would be built by another joint venture between Italian shipbuilding company Fincantieri and the China State Shipbuilding Corporation.
While the vessels will be built in China, they will be based on an existing platform already used by Carnival Cruise Line. The first ship of that class, Carnival Vista, started sailing earlier this year. Carnival Corp. said the design of the new ships will be “tailored for the new Chinese cruise brand and the specific tastes of Chinese travelers.”
Information has been scarce about the new brand, when it will get off the ground, how many ships it will have, and where those ships will sail. It is expected to launch with ships sold from the Carnival Corp. fleet before the new vessels arrive — but details on that, too, have been few.
Western cruise companies including Royal Caribbean International, Costa Cruises, MSC Cruises, Carnival Cruise Line, Princess Cruises, and Norwegian Cruise Line have all sent ships or announced plans to move capacity to China in recent years. Royal Caribbean Cruises also formed a joint venture with Ctrip to launch a new brand, SkySea Cruises, last year with an old Celebrity Cruises ship.
The addition of so many new ships has put pressure on prices in the region, but executives say they are confident that the market will thrive.
“The first of these new ships is not set to be delivered until 2022 — and our current ships operating in China are profitable today,” said Roger Frizzell, chief communications officer for Carnival Corporation. “So we believe this will be an important long-term strategy for the joint venture.”
Photo credit: Carnival Vista is shown in Montenegro. A joint venture between Carnival Corp. and Chinese partners signs an agreement to order two new cruise ships using the Vista platform that will be built in China. Paul Saunders / Flickr