Cruise cools to China

Image result for china cruises

By Tom Stieghorst
The cruise industry’s gold rush to China, if not over, has entered a new phase: For the first time in at least four years, cruise capacity in China will not grow in 2018.

That means that the focus and management attention that has been lavished on the world’s most populous country may now be turning elsewhere.

To hear evidence of that, listen to the list of places that Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings CEO Frank Del Rio reeled off when asked if he’s ready to put the second ship in China.

“We have many other either unserved or underserved markets that we would also consider in the mix, should ships become available to us,” Del Rio said in response to a question from a Wells Fargo analyst. “We don’t have a presence in the mid-Atlantic states. We’re not in Baltimore. We’re not in Charleston. We don’t have a presence at all in the world’s second-largest port, which is Fort Lauderdale. We don’t have a presence in the Gulf States of Texas or Alabama. We don’t have a year-round presence in Tampa or New Orleans or in Los Angeles.”

Del Rio went on to say that the Norwegian Cruise Line brand will have three ships in Alaska this summer, where some competitors have as many as eight.

“So, given our fleet size today and the fact that we will only be taking one ship per year, it could be a couple of years before we consider adding more tonnage to China, if the conditions in the rest of the world remain as robust as they are today,” Del Rio said.

The Chinese boom really got going in 2014 when Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. announced it would devote its brand-new Quantum of the Seas, the first of a new class of ship, to the Chinese market.

In a world full of supposedly bold moves, that one really was. And it prompted other lines for the first time to put brand new ships in China, as everyone feared being left behind in the scramble to impress the Chinese.

Being the preferred brand in a market that was projected to be the biggest in the world in a decade or so was worth the gamble of putting brand new tonnage in an unproven and opaque market.

So when Princess Cruises sent the Majestic Princess to Shanghai last year and Norwegian sent the Norwegian Joy, in addition to the Quantum and ships from Costa Cruises and others, the result was a crowded field.

Throw into the mix the spat between China and South Korea that limited itineraries out of northern China, and China became a much weaker cruise market last year.

While cruise lines insist that they’re in it for the long haul, and even in the short term it has been profitable, the sense that China is going to deliver a big increase in global cruise revenues has been tempered.

Already Norwegian’s focus for 2018 has turned to introducing Norwegian Bliss to the North American market, and in particular the U.S. West Coast. Who knows where else in the U.S. Norwegian ships might be coming next?


Hong Kong: Homeport and Transit Call Opportunity

Ovation of the Seas in Hong Kong

The new World Dream will arrive to homeport at the Kai Tak Cruise Terminal this November as another new ship uses Hong Kong as a turnaround destination.

Next year is looking to be on par with 2017 in terms of traffic, with 190 calls and 550,000 passengers, according to Jeff Bent, managing director of Worldwide Cruise Terminals, which oversees Kai Tak.

Around 75 percent of cruise calls at the facility are turnarounds.

“Ships leaving north Asia seasonally are making more transit calls in Hong Kong on their way to other markets, so there is a marginally positive effect for us, and perhaps an opportunity for seasonal homeports,” added Bent.

Source markets are certainly diverse, with Hong Kong locals, mainland Chinese and overseas passengers all playing into the passenger mix.

“The number and percentage of local Hong Kong passengers is increasing with additional homeporting capacity, and Hong Kong will likely be our largest source market this year,” Bent said. “The Chinese market presents its share of challenges, but is still vastly underpenetrated compared to mature markets.”

Hong Kong is the world’s tenth largest outbound travel market by spending. New transportation options will give mainland Chinese more options to board ships leaving Kai Tak in the next few years highlighted by high speed rail, a bridge to Zhuhai and Macao, and a new highway border crossing.

Of note, Kai Tak welcomed its millionth cruise passenger this year when the Majestic Princess called.

Majestic Princess Set to Sail from Taiwan in 2018 Deployment Change

The Majestic Princess makes a call to Keelung in June.
Majestic Princess
The new Majestic Princess is poised to move into the Taiwanese market from April to July 2018, after which the 2017-built ship will head to Australia for winter 2018-2019.

According to sources with knowledge of the ship’s deployment, the Majestic will sail three- and four-night voyages from Keelung in all of April and May. A spokesperson for Princess Cruises told Cruise Industry News in a written statement that 2018 itineraries have yet to be confirmed.

Following her Taiwan-based short cruise program, the ship will offer longer cruises to Japan in May, June and July from Keelung. It is not known, however, if they will be mixed in with China-based sailings, or if Princess is continuing to cut capacity in China.

Announced in 2015, the Majestic Princess was built and developed for year-round China operations.

Earlier this year, Princess announced she would re-position seasonally to Australia for 2018-2019.

In addition, the Sapphire Princess, which has been dedicated to the Asia and China markets, will be re-deployed to Europe in 2018.