Costa’s move to produce a ship especially for Chinese passengers has opened up an important debate about whether Asian and Western travellers can cruise together.
While most nations seem fine to mix and mingle, industry sources say mainland Chinese passengers appear to be provoking the most discussion about how cultures mix on board ships.
Whether it is the food, sun-bathing or shopping, the world’s biggest prospective cruise market has sparked a debate about whether one ship can provide the variety and meet the language needs of all cultures.
The debate is particularly relevant in Southeast Asia, where cruise lines have become sensitive to cultural issues like available food, language and activities.
“Costa Atlantica’s arrival in New York carrying only Chinese guests marks a milestone for inbound Asia tourism for the United States and for Carnival Corporation,’’ said Carnival Corp president and CEO Arnold Donald.
“We have significant investments in China’s cruise market which will one day be the largest in the world,’’ he said.
Costa Atlantica, one of three Costa Cruises ships homeported in China, has been dedicated to the Chinese market for the past two years. It recently underwent a US$20.4 million refit in January this year in preparation for the 86-day roundtrip global voyage which departed Shanghai on March 1 with 1000 Chinese passengers – the first cruise of its kind to be offered exclusively to the Chinese market.
“As a cruise industry leader in the Chinese market, we strive to bring the best holiday options for our valued customers in the region,” said Costa Asia president Buddy Bok just before the ship departed Shanghai.
“Our unique packaging for the world cruise will undoubtedly exceed consumer expectations. At Costa Cruises, we are always keen to bring new formulas to make a difference in China’s cruise industry,’’ Mr Bok added.
Michael Thamm, CEO of Costa Cruises said the first world voyage dedicated to Chinese-only passengers “marks a milestone for the Costa Group and the rapid further development of our business in Asia.
“We will invest further in this and accelerate the development of these important markets for the future with innovative ideas and products.’’
The Genoa-based line has been operating in China for the past 10 years and is expected to ramp up its offerings given the region’s fast growing appetite for cruise holidays.
This year alone, it has increased its capacity by 140 per cent for its two ships homeported in Shanghai. Costa’s third ship in Tianjin will make 40 voyages this year compared to eight last year.
Royal Caribbean, one of the biggest investors in China which has sent its most technologically advanced vessels to be based in Asia, is adding the 160,000 tonne Ovation of the Seas to its fleet next year, taking the total number of cruise ships in the region to five. While Ovation will be homeported in Tianjin, Quantum of the Seas will be based in Shanghai from June 24 this year.
The line’s managing director for North China and Asia, Dr Zinan Liu said the company was seeing a “bandwagon effect’’ with international cruise lines showing greater interest in mainland China’s cruise market.
Star Cruises has one of the longest histories in Asian cruising and pioneered floating casinos onboard its ships. The line is known for offering cruises which cater mainly to Chinese passengers from Southeast Asia, Hong Kong and mainland China who have a penchant for gambling.
Carnival’s Mr Donald said: “China presents the next great frontier for cruising and expects to surpass one million cruise passengers in 2015, and nearly 50 per cent of those will travel on a Carnival Corporation ship. It’s just a matter of time before China becomes the largest cruise market in the world.’’
He said that Costa’s Asia operations have achieved double-digit revenue yield growth “affirming the pent-up demand in the region and building confidence in the long-term potential for growth.’’
What’s different about the Costa Atlantica ship?
Food: Chinese breakfasts including dumplings, congee and noodles are on offer in the main dining rooms.
Activities: Via Della Spiga shops specialising in Italian designer brands selling jewellery, handbags, clothing and liquor. Complimentary 24-hour room service and babysitting, supervised children’s program, onboard weddings.
Entertainment: Fortuna Casino which spans the whole width of the ship, has its own bars, gambling tables, slot machines and electronic gaming.
Language: English with Mandarin translation.
Destinations: Current world cruise will call at Miami, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Jamaica and Hawaii, ending on May 26.