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Cruise industry sails into new territory

(China Daily)

09:25, October 31, 2011

BEIJING - Chen Yan's first cruise was four years ago and somewhat different from his next one, in November.

Not only are the ship and itinerary different, but so is the point of embarkation.

Last time he had to travel abroad to get on board. This time he can embark at Sanya, Hainan province, the new home to Star Cruises' SuperStar Aquarius, and the first time the city has been a homeport.

The 51,039 metric ton cruise ship will call at three ports in Vietnam: Danang, Halong Bay and Hue City.

Hong Kong-based Star Cruises, part of Genting Hong Kong Ltd, bills itself as the leading cruise operator in the Asia-Pacific region. It is not the only company basing liners off the Chinese mainland. Two other international cruise companies will also sail their luxury ships to the country next year, against the backdrop of a growing domestic cruise travel market.

In 2012, Miami-based Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd will sail its 137,000-ton Voyager of the Seas from China while Costa Crociere S.p.A, the largest cruise company in Europe, will introduce its 76,000-ton Victoria to China.

"China still has a far lower penetration rate compared with cruise markets in the United States and Europe, but this means there is huge untapped potential," said Michael Bayley, executive vice-president of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.

William Ng, chief operating officer for Star Cruises, said: "China is now presenting us with a window of opportunity that can push the industry to the next level."

Saturation in the traditional markets of North America and Europe and long-unchanged routes make it urgent for international cruise operators to seek new clients as well as exploring new destinations. China is a natural attraction with its rapid economic development and big population, said Ye Jian, president of the China Association of Port-of-Entry.

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