With the recent palpable growth in the Asian cruise market, companies are looking to capitalize and agents anticipate unique opportunities to grow their business.
While the region currently only has a 6% share of the cruise market, a recent Cruise Line International Association (CLIA) survey says that traveler interest in Asia has increased substantially in the past few years.
Major cruise lines like Carnival seem to be getting the hint. In recent months, the Doral, FL-based cruise giant said it will send two more ships to China in 2016.
Costa Cruises and Princess Cruises, both subsidiaries of Carnival Corp., each will add one ship to China next year, making Carnival Corp. the first cruise line to operate six ships in the country. And the company announced Michael Ungerer as its chief operations officer-share services for Carnival Asia, further confirming the company’s focus on its growth strategy in the region.
“With the sheer size of the market in China, we are seeing many travel companies put an emphasis in this market,” said Nicole Mazza, chief marketing officer at TRAVELSAVERS, a consortium in Oyster Bay, NY. “With the world spotlight on China, interest in Asia creates a great opportunity for travel agents and travelers.”
While a market share of 6% may look small on paper, the fact that Asia—China in particular—is experiencing substantial growth in the cruise segment is undeniable.
Between 2013 and 2015, the number of cruise ships deployed to Asia grew at a 10% compound annual rate, with the volume of cruises within and through Asia and passenger capacity in the region increasing 11% and 20%, respectively, according to a trend report from CLIA.
CLIA, which partnered with Chart Management Consultants (CHART) for the report, also found that China was a clear frontrunner in terms of the number of people from the country that are booking cruise trips.
China has added 480,00 more cruise travelers since 2012, a nearly 80% compound annual growth rate, the report found, and went on to highlight that of the 1.4 million cruise passengers from Asia in 2014, China accounted for nearly half of the regional passenger volume.
For those in the industry, the spike in the market isn’t a surprise or a fluke.
“We’ve been seeing this trend, especially with new builds being deployed to service the China market,” said Susan Gannon, senior director of marketing and development of cruise products at Ensemble Travel Group in New York, NY. “As a growth market it’s likely to continue.”
Michael Londregan, managing director, Asia-Pacific, at Virtuoso, a luxury consortium based in Fort Worth, TX, was equally bullish on the growing market.
“The Southeast Asia markets will be a powerhouse of global tourism for decades to come,” he said. “The fact that Virtuoso has now expanded membership in this region exemplifies that the Asia market is not only robust but diversified.”
That continuation of growth could also lead to increased interest in the region from North American travelers, who by and large haven’t jumped on board quite yet.
“I don't think Asia is a big market yet for North American cruisers, the cruise lines are in Asia for the Chinese market,” explains Mike Ertmer, business development manager at MAST Travel Network in Oakbrook, Ill. “But there is still potential to grow the market for cruisers from North America. The opportunity is to see more of Asia without taking a long circle Pacific cruise or a world cruise.”
Many industry professionals agree that there is significant opportunity to drum up interest in China and the Asian market in general among travelers not from the region.
“As more cruise lines create programs throughout Asia for the North American market, the destination becomes more accessible for more travelers,” said Gannon. “Past guests of a cruise line are always looking for something new and often feel more comfortable experiencing a new destination in a familiar way. More opportunities are now open to them.”
And if agents and other industry professionals take the time to educate themselves on the region and make the point of suggesting China and other Asian markets as potential destinations to their clients who are seeking new experiences, but may not have considered Asia on their own, the opportunity to boost sales and grow their business becomes increasingly realistic.
“The luxury cruise market has shown immediate response to Virtuoso partners and we expect that much of the additional cruise capacity coming on line will be targeted at the sophisticated Asia luxury clientele,” predicted Londregan.
Mazza, Gannon, and Ertmer all foresee similar opportunity to leverage the growing market.
“This is certainly an opportunity,” said Gannon, noting the potential to “develop new business, to grow sales and to upsell.”