China’s ban leaves cruise lines scrambling

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Majestic Princess

Cruise lines have started to tear up their northern China itineraries following an order from the Chinese government to the country’s travel agencies to stop selling itineraries that include South Korea.

The Chinese directive follows the announcement late last month by the South Korean and U.S. governments that components for a new U.S.-developed anti-missile system were to arrive in South Korea last week for installation.

Known as the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, it is designed to intercept missiles up to 125 miles away as a means of protecting South Korea from missile strikes by North Korea, which has undertaken a series of long-range missile tests in recent months and tested a nuclear weapon as recently as last September.

The Chinese and Russian governments have objected to the installation of the missile-defense system because it employs powerful radar technology that the two countries assert can see into their territories.

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Genting Dream

Japan and South Korea are the main cruise destinations reachable from northern China on the four- and five-day itineraries preferred by most Chinese. With Korea suddenly off limits, cruises operated for Chinese passengers out of ports such as Tianjin and Shanghai will now focus primarily on visiting Japan, experts said.

In a statement, Costa Cruises said it would “remove calls to South Korean ports for our upcoming cruises homeported out of China, replacing them with cruising at sea or calls to destinations in Japan.”

Royal Caribbean International also said it will curtail visits to South Korean ports due to “recent developments regarding the situation in South Korea.”

Delivery of the parts for the missile-defense system came as North Korea tested four missiles launched in the direction of Japan that fell into the sea.

Dwain Wall, an executive at CruisingStore.com and a consultant familiar with the Chinese market, said there is no question that the Chinese government has the authority to order Chinese travel companies to stop selling cruises to Korea.

“There is a very tight licensing and regulatory control over travel agencies” in China, Wall said. “It does impact cruise, but it’s low season, thank God, and [the cruise lines have] been sort of able to regroup and change the ports to Japanese ports.”

If China’s ban persists into the busier summer months it could both overwhelm the port capacity in Japan and reduce demand for cruises in China because of the lack of destination variety.

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Richard Fain, chairman of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., said he could not predict how long the chill in China-Korea relations might last.

Stock analysts blamed news of the Korea tiff for a pull-back in cruise shares last week but said that it was excessive.

As a share of cruise lines’ global capacity, the analysts said China accounts for 9% of RCCL’s, 6% of Carnival Corp.’s and 4% to 5% of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings’. Further, they pointed out, not all of that capacity is sailing from north China.

Norwegian has no plans to reduce China service, Del Rio says

Norwegian Joy
It’s full speed ahead in China for Norwegian Cruise Line.

Despite recent announcements by other lines that ships once scheduled for year-round service in China would move to Australia for part of the year, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings chairman Frank Del Rio said his company has no plans to follow suit.

“I’m glad to see that the others are leaving,” Del Rio said. “That leaves us perhaps the last man standing, and that’d be great. I’ll take all the demand.”

Del Rio’s comments came during a conference call with analysts to discuss first-quarter financial results.

Cruise selling in China has been disrupted since March by the Chinese government’s move to halt travel to South Korea, a protest of a decision by the South Korean government to install a U.S.-made missile defense system.

“The disruption caused travel agents to be distracted from focusing on contracting charters further out into the year, then trying to book, in some cases rebook, [and] find new customers [for those] who no longer wanted to go on sailings that didn’t include Korea,” Del Rio said. “But it’s also had a bit of a chilling effect on overall demand.”

He added that sales for new cruises had started to pick up in the past two weeks. “The South Korea situation, we believe, is a temporary bump in the road, and time will tell,” he said.

Norwegian Cruise Line is scheduled to start sailing the 3,883-passenger Norwegian Joy, its first ship custom-designed for the Chinese market, from Shanghai in late June.

Princess Cruises recently said that its Majestic Princess, also custom-built for the Chinese market, will be deployed to Australia for six months in 2018-19. The move follows the redeployment of the Sapphire Princess from China to Europe in the latter half of 2018.

Because Norwegian is new to the Chinese source market, Del Rio said he’s being cautious about predicting the impact of the Norwegian Joy on the company’s performance in the second half.

“So in many ways, all the good things that I have to say about how our business is operating on the other 24 ships is being somewhat tempered by the potential that could arise in China,” Del Rio said.

A strong Wave

Del Rio said on the call that this year’s Wave was “the best Wave season that we and likely the industry has experienced in quite some time.” As a result, NCLH brands have fewer cabins to sell for the rest of 2017, and it expects higher prices on those bookings than last year.

NCLH, which also includes Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises, posted Q1 net income of $61.9 million, compared with $73.2 million a year earlier. Revenue rose 6.8%, to a record $1.15 billion.

Del Rio attributed the net-income decline to higher-than-expected maintenance and repair costs, particularly for the Norwegian Star, which broke down in Australia for five days in February.

Outside of that, CFO Wendy Beck said the results were driven by “strong close-in demand in the Caribbean, coupled with strength in onboard revenue.” Cuba itineraries are now available on all three brands, and “the performance of that itinerary is just astonishing,” Del Rio said. NCLH is also doing better than it planned in Europe this year, which Del Rio attributed to a combination of less inventory to sell than at the same time last year and positive market conditions. “That is resulting in very, very strong sales in Europe at significantly higher prices than the same time last year,” he said.

Costa Concordia captain loses final appeal against prison sentence

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The captain of the Costa Concordia has lost his final appeal bid.

Francesco Schettino was sentenced to 16 years in prison in 2015 after a court found him guilty of manslaughter, causing a maritime accident and abandoning ship.

On Friday the sentence was upheld by Italy’s highest criminal tribunal, the Court of Cassation.

The ship capsized after hitting rocks off the Tuscan island of Giglio in 2012 killing 32 people.

Schettino had handed himself in to the Rebibbia prison in Rome after the verdict, according to the BBC.

More than 4,000 passengers and crew were aboard the Costa Concordia during a Mediterranean cruise.