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Travel by cruise liners set for robust growth

2011-01-26 13:47

SHANGHAI - The number of visits by cruise liners to Shanghai this year is expected to maintain the historic level reached in 2010 that was driven by Expo 2010 Shanghai, underscoring the rapid development of the city's cruise liner industry.

According to statistics from the Pujiang Frontier Inspection Station, which inspects inbound and outbound liners, cruise liners will make about 200 visits to Shanghai this year, with an "overwhelming majority" by cross-border liners.

Zhang Jin, who works at the cruise department of SAL travel agency, said she has observed a gradual increase in the number of visitors since SAL introduced the cruise business eight years ago. "Last year was a surge," said Zhang. "Costa had an extra cruise traveling to Shanghai and that's why we have more than doubled the visitor numbers from 1,700 in 2009 to 3,800 in 2010," she said.

The station attributes the surge in 2010 to the Expo, which ended on Oct 31. The event brought 4.25 million foreign visitors to the city.

In 2010, cross-border cruise liners docked 177 times in the city, up 48 percent year-on-year, bringing approximately 240,000 visitors, nearly double the figure in 2009, the station said.

"The fact that the number this year did not drop sharply even after the Expo wrapped up means the city's cruise line industry is developing steadily and the demand for cruise tourism is catching on among the city's rich," said Lu Jun, an executive official with Pujiang Inspection Station.

"In fact, the developing cruise liner industry is part of the city's plan to become an international shipping center by 2020. And the industry's rapid development is a result of various government policies aimed at promoting it," Lu said.

Not only Shanghai, but the whole country's cruise sector witnessed robust growth last year, with the mainland receiving 223 international cruise ships in 2010, the China Cruise and Yacht Industry Association (CCYIA) said on Tuesday.

The figure, a year-on-year rise of 42.9 percent, shows that China has become a key player in Asia's cruise sector, said Zheng Weihang, secretary-general of CCYIA, the cruise industry watchdog.

In 2010, a total of 790,000 mainland tourists traveled abroad via cruises, a rise of 20.1 percent, and 462,000 international tourists visited China on cruises, CCYIA figures show.

However, the cruise market is dominated by international brands such as the United States-based Carnival Corp, Royal Caribbean Cruises and the Italian-based Costa Cruises, according to Zhang Jin from the SAL travel agency.

"As taking a cruise is not really a localized leisure industry and lots of Chinese aren't really familiar with that way of traveling in a luxurious boat, a large percentage of our passenger source actually comes from regular customer recommendations," said Zhang.

"It's possible that we will build our own cruise liners and start as soon as we know more about the operating model ," she said.

At the same time, the port of Shanghai is addressing infrastructure concerns and the local government is offering help. The port currently holds 80,000-gross-ton cruise ships and manages 1 million passengers a day.

Shanghai's government rolled out a series of preferential policies, including those targeting the cruise liner industry, to upgrade the shipping capacity after the city set the goal in 2009 of becoming an international shipping center by 2020.

In January 2010, Ying Mingyong, vice-head of Hongkou district, the cruise ship hub in Shanghai, said that the district has worked out a spectrum of policies, such as loans and land subsidies and operating tax exemption, to lure more international cruise liners.

In the draft of its 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015), the city's economic development guideline for the next five years, Shanghai vowed to make two "historical breakthroughs" in its cruise line industry. It vowed to master the technology of independently building luxury cruise liners and to register the first local cruise line company within the next five years.

By 2016, the number of visits to the city by cross-border cruise liners will reach 500, bringing 1 to 1.2 million visitors, the plan said, while the cruise liner industry will contribute 15 to 20 billion yuan ($2.3 billion-$3 billion) to the city's economy.

Ma Zhenhuan and Gao Changxin contributed to the story.

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