“China will one day become the world’s largest cruise market,” said Arnold Donald, the CEO of Carnival Corporation & PLC, in an interview for CNBC.
Carnival is the US world leader in the cruise market and although its CEO says that for the moment the cruise market in China remains embryonic, he wants to be part of the future largest market in the world of cruising that will be in China.
As the Chinese tourists are back, the travel industry is working hard to attract Chinese tourists to their destinations, services, and products. Chinese people are becoming richer and many of them will definitely select cruise ships as their first holiday abroad after three years of the travel ban.
In this blog post, we will take a look at cruise tourism in China and comply with a simple guide for international cruise operators, on how to attract Chinese tourists to your cruise vacation offering.
Chinese tourists are back in the game
The whole world is trying to attract Chinese tourists back to their destinations after the COVID-19 pandemic. Since 8 January 2023, Chinese travelers are not restricted only to domestic travel, and many will definitely go abroad this year, as they were waiting for the occasion for three years.
According to Trip.com, the leading Chinese website for trip booking, outbound flight queries increased 254% in late December. The biggest wave of Chinese tourists is expected to come in the second and third quarter of the year, as many of them are still waiting for their passport renewals.
Chinese international travelers had been the world’s biggest tourism spenders. According to United Nations World Tourism Organization, in 2019 Chinese travelers took 154.6 million trips abroad and spent nearly $255 billion.
While China’s middle class is booming due to very strong economic growth and ever-increasing GDP per capita, China’s social development is undergoing unprecedented development. The Chinese people are increasingly attracted to Western consumption at all levels, especially in the tourism sector, where China is increasingly present.
The cruise market in China: almost nonexistent 10 years ago
While 10 years ago, the cruise market in China was non-existent, in 2015 it represented 1 million Chinese tourists, an increase of more than 40% over one year according to the Cruise Lines International Association, the world’s largest cruise line.
Before the pandemic, the Chinese cruise industry was an important part of the global cruise industry. Chinese cruise enthusiasts were just getting started with the love of this type of holiday, accounting for a total of 8% of cruise passengers (2.4 million) in 2019, only second in the world after Americans.
The cruise industry market in China is in its first stage and there is a lot of room for growth, especially now, as Chinese travelers are looking for new and exciting ways to spend their holidays.
Which Chinese want to go on cruise ships?
When it comes to China’s cruise industry, the average cruise passenger from China is a middle-aged person (45 years old), booking the cruise travel for the whole family. In fact, when looking at demographics, travelers from Mainland China that chose cruise holidays are usually affluent Chinese families, very often traveling as a group of 5 or 6 (grandparents, parents, and a kid or two).
Passengers between 30 and 49 years old account for around half of the total bookings of cruises. Cruises are believed to be rather safe and predictable and are believed to be a great idea for a holiday, for the whole family to spend quality time together.
Popular cruise destinations
Although many Chinese consumers chose costa cruises along the Chinese coast or the Yangtze river trips, which usually take from one up to two weeks, China is not the only travel destination.
When it comes to global preferences, the Caribbean is the definite leader, accounting for 34.4% of total cruises in 2019 (it’s better to rely on data from before the pandemic, which also includes Chinese tourists).
Europe and Mediterranean cruises are also one of the favored international travel destinations in the Chinese tourism industry, but many travelers also chose Asian countries, like the Philippines, Thailand, or Indonesia.
China aims to become the world’s largest cruise market
On 12 March 2019, the first cruise ship built in China, the Greg Mortimer, was launched at the China Merchants Heavy Industry site in Shanghai.
The boat specially designed to sail in the polar zone was commissioned by the American company Sunstone and designed by the Norwegian Ulstein. It is 104.4 meters long and has 93 cabins including 63 with private balconies, three restaurants, many bars, an observation lounge, a conference room, a spa, and a swimming pool that will be available to future passengers.
Another cruise ship designed especially for Chinese consumers, the Norwegian Joy, that operated in China since it was commissioned in the summer of 2017, its first years of operation in the Chinese market have not met the expected success of the company that wants to obtain more returns for its shareholders, said the president of the Norwegian Cruise Line, Frank Del Rio.
This is a sign that the Chinese cruise market is not growing as fast as expected and that cruise lines and China State Shipbuilding Corporation still have a lot to learn about their Asian clientele in order to adapt their communications policy, in addition to the standings of their cruise lines.
How to attract Chinese tourists to your cruise ship?
It’s not that easy to reach out to Chinese passengers that are interested in cruise tourism if you don’t know a thing about marketing in China. First thing is that Chinese people use completely different websites and social media to look for information and inspiration, they also have different needs and demands when it comes to receiving information online.
Here are some tips for you to understand how the market works and what would be the best strategy for you to get started:
Understand the needs and behaviors of Chinese tourists
Chinese tourists have their own personal go-to guide when traveling: Dazhong Dianping. This app, similar to Yelp and other review apps, gives visitors a comprehensive overview of the best places to shop, dine or watch movies both in China and abroad.
Apart from this, it’s also important to understand that they are looking for all-inclusive cruises, like the viking cruises offered by Royal Caribbean, so that they can just book the holiday for the whole family and enjoy it without stress.
Adapt your offer to Chinese customers
Chinese customers are used to comfort and they have their own ways of doing things, different from the West. When booking a cruise, they expect to have every aspect of the cruise adapted to their needs and liking.
Norwegian Joy is a good example of such an adaptation. For the occasion of having Chinese customers cruise, everything has been adapted to this specific clientele: the guides and scientists speak Mandarin, the cuisine is Asian, the water is served warm and the menus are in Chinese. Even the visits have been programmed in order to satisfy the Chinese clientele: a stopover is planned on the Antarctic base of “the Great Wall”.
For this world-leading company of luxury shipping in the polar zone, three-quarters of departures for Antarctica only house Chinese, so it’s advisable for them to adapt to the needs of their passengers.
Create a Chinese website and optimize it for Baidu SEO
To effectively reach the Chinese tourist market, having access to accurate and up-to-date information about your business on China’s search engines is key. Gaining their trust will give you a competitive edge – create a lite version of your website in Chinese so visitors know that they are welcome at your establishment, then host it within China itself for the best visibility across Baidu (the leading local search engine). Make sure all relevant booking options as well as links to social media channels/QR codes are included.
You can also participate in travel forums like Qyer, Mafengwo, or travel topics on Zhihu and Baidu Tieba, as those mentions will also increase your visibility and credibility in China.
Promote your cruise offer on Chinese social media
Social media is where Internet users in China spend most of their online time. When it comes to cruise travelers you want to reach, they are not young, so you need to focus on the social media they use the most; WeChat and Weibo.
Wechat allows companies to publish newsletters and updates on WeChat Official Accounts, but also have their own mini-apps, which will be useful for your business. In the mini-program, you can create an H5 brochure that will be like an interactive catalog of your offer, that people can share in groups, private messages, and so on. It’s very effective when it comes to lead generation. You can use the mini-program for bookings as well.
Weibo will be helpful for reaching out to new audiences. You can organize influencer live streams, to show your cruise offering, you can create discount events, post inspirational photos and videos, and many more.
Make things comfortable for Chinese passengers
The most important thing that many businesses forget is to offer Alipay and WeChat Pay options on their cruise ships and when booking. This is the payment method that the majority of people in China use and they are not used to credit cards and carrying cash around.
You can also hire Chinese-speaking staff or prepare the one you have when it comes to Chinese tourists and what they might need.
Last but not least, Chinese people just went out of the big COVID-19 wave in the country and they are still very cautious. They will expect the ship to be as safe and sanitary as possible. Make sure you also display all the safety measurements and COVID-19 information on the ship, but also online.
We can help you reach out to Chinese travelers
Still many opportunities remain to be seized for this sector which must adapt its services and its communication to the expectations of Chinese travelers who express a demand for more and more qualitative and innovative.
Entering the Chinese market through social networks (Baidu, Weibo, Wechat) remains the most effective way to promote business in China, and we can help you create the best marketing strategy for your cruise holidays.
Gentlemen Marketing Agency is a Shanghai-based digital agency that helps foreign brands gain a foothold in China. We offer digital marketing and e-commerce solutions to foreign brands and businesses wanting to reach out to Chinese consumers.
Our team is up-to-date with all the latest marketing trends in China and uses all the most effective digital tools to promote your business in China.
Don’t hesitate to leave a comment or contact us, so we can schedule a free consultation with one of our experts, that will learn about your goals and needs and assist you with the best solutions for your market entry.