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Norwegian Cruise Line is about to become the latest North American operator to station a ship in China, and the Miami-based company is not jumping in on its own.
That agreement comes slightly more than a month before the new 3,883-passenger Norwegian Joy starts sailing from Shanghai at the end of June.
How exactly the partnership with the e-commerce company will work and what the arrangement will entail was not clear. The announcement said the two companies would utilize “Alibaba’s expansive ecosystem for engaging consumers” and seek to “further increase the awareness in China of the unique offerings of a cruise vacation.”
Representatives from Norwegian did not answer questions from Skift despite multiple requests.
A spokeswoman for Alibaba said the company would reveal more details before the new ship, which was designed to suit local preferences, starts sailing next month.
“Our expanded relationship is another example of how Alibaba is helping international brands to reach Chinese consumers through our robust data, marketing, and technology,” Alibaba Group president Michael Evans said in the announcement.
Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings president and CEO Frank Del Rio said in a press release that the partnership would tap into “Alibaba’s extensive knowledge of China’s consumer base and its unique ecosystem which continually reaches consumers in new and ever-expanding ways.”
Passengers in China generally book cruises through travel agents who charter entire ships or portions of ships, and it’s not clear if the Alibaba deal would seek to provide new ways to book trips or merely connect passengers with agents.
The partnership with Alibaba “complements our strong, existing relationships with our loyal travel agents to provide unmatched insight into what Chinese travelers look for in a vacation experience,” said David Herrera, president of NCLH China.
Norwegian is moving into China after an intense industry buildup in recent years that put pressure on the lofty prices passengers were willing to pay. Other lines have reported a slowdown in business there after tensions between China and South Korea forced itinerary changes.
While the company is entering the China market much later than its larger competitors, Carnival Corp. and Royal Caribbean Cruises, it is the only one in the group to announce a relationship with Alibaba.
“We’re proud of our long-term partnership with Ctrip, the leading Chinese online travel retailer, and our other growing retail partnerships in the market,” said Rob Zeiger, chief communications officer for Royal Caribbean Cruises.
Roger Frizzell, senior vice president and chief communications officer at Carnival Corp., said his company feels good about its position in China with the Costa Cruises and Princess Cruises brands, as well as a joint venture with China State Shipbuilding Corp. He said the cruise operator also doesn’t view other lines as competition.
“We typically look at anything that helps the cruise market as a positive thing, especially with a growing cruise market like China that is expected to someday be the largest cruise market in the world,” Frizzell said.