Cruise operators charting a course for Chinese tourists

International cruise operators have big plans for expansion into Chinese waters in 2011 and they come offering packages specially designed for the tastes of the world's fastest growing tourism market.

According to Chinese tourism figures, there were 95 cruises which departed from China's coastal cities during 2010 while 128 international cruise ships visited those ports over the same 12 months. Those figures represent a 19 percent year-on-year increase - and the industry is expecting to top that growth during 2011.

Dominating the market is the Italian-based cruise operator Costa Crociere S.p.A (http://www.costacrociere.it) which boasts a 70 percent share. Last year that amounted to more than 100,000 passengers and the company claims that the majority of its short-term cruises - to destinations such as Japan and South Korea - were fully booked.

In 2011, Costa has 41 tours planned heading out from the Chinese cities of Shanghai (35) and Hong Kong (six) but the company - as well as its competitors like Royal Caribbean and Princess Cruises, which also operate cruises from mainland China - is hoping that the Chinese tourists' increased spending power will mean they will start to look further afield for the trips.

Hence Costa is heavily marketing its trips through the Arabian Sea - which depart from Dubai; the company claims that such bookings from China have jumped by more than 10 times already this year.

Costa claims Chinese tourists are lured by special theme nights on their cruises as well as trips which offer education value as well - such as trips through the Middle East - and that the industry sees China's aging population as a rich source of custom. At present only around 20 percent of Chinese cruise passengers are over 50 - but that figure is expected to rise - compared to the average age globally which in recent years has dipped to the mid-40s due to aggressive marketing amongst younger generations..

The port city of Shanghai is one destination set to benefit from the trend - cruise ships docked 177 times in China's second city last year, up almost 50 percent year on year, bringing with them around 240,000 people, almost double the figure recorded in 2009, according to the China Cruise and Yacht Industry Association.

Overall, 790,000 Chinese traveled overseas on cruises last year - up 20.1 percent - and 462,000 foreign visitors used cruise ships to visit the mainland.

The majority of Chinese cruise customers chose destinations throughout Asia, including Hong Kong, Japan and Taiwan.

MS

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