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Cruising to prosperity

ANN/CHINA DAILY – In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Shanghai set its sights on strengthening the growth of its cruise industry of becoming a world-renowned hub by year 2035.

Projections from the Cruise Lines International Association indicate that passenger traffic for the upcoming year is poised to surpass the levels observed in 2019. Furthermore, the association anticipates that the global cruise passenger count will exceed pre-pandemic figures, reaching 31.5 million by the end of this year, as reported by Xinhua.

To this end, Shanghai unveiled its ambitious goal of accommodating three million cruise passengers annually by 2025. This objective is outlined in the recently unveiled Shanghai Action Plan for Advancing the High-Quality Development of the International Cruise Economy (2023-25).

Since the Ministry of Transport unveiled a plan for the resumption of international cruises in March, Shanghai has played a leading role in the national drive to aid the recovery of the sector.

“Since resumption, the cruise economy has sped up recovery and shown a strong momentum of growth,” said Director of the Shanghai Municipal Commission of Commerce Zhu Min during a news conference.

The International Cruise Terminal on Shanghai’s North Bund in the Hongkou district is expected to serve as the home port for a minimum of 18 international cruise departures next year. PHOTO: CHINA DAILY

On May 26, Blue Dream Star became the first outbound cruise from China since the onset of the pandemic. Since then, Blue Dream Cruises have organised 16 voyages and welcomed about 22,000 tourists. On June 18, luxury cruise liner China Merchants-Yidun, set sail from the Shanghai Port International Cruise Terminal on a 15-day round-trip to Japan.

Since the resumption of travel, the city’s cruise industry has generated more than CNY300 million (USD41.6 million) in ticket sales, Zhu said. On August 11, an international cruise for domestic outbound groups sailed from the Shanghai Wusongkou International Cruise Terminal, taking around 1,000 passengers to Fukuoka, Kumamoto and other parts of Japan.

Travel blogger from Shanghai He Jialing was one of those onboard. “I was really excited when I boarded. After such a long wait because of the pandemic, I am finally able to take my child on a trip abroad again,” he said.

Shanghai is a key player in the development of the Chinese cruise market, which underwent rapid growth before the pandemic struck. The number of international cruise passengers in the city increased from just 26,000 in 2006, to a whopping 3.78 million in 2019.

By the end of 2019, its ports had received some 3,000 cruise ships, and approximately 15.3 million tourists. “Though Shanghai was relatively late to the game, it has obvious advantages for further development,” said Zhu.

“It has an excellent geographic location in the centre of China’s coastline, and a big market of nearly 25 million residents with a per capita disposable income of close to CNY80,000. These factors result in a high demand for holiday leisure offerings. There is also a huge passenger flow from the Yangtze River Delta.”

Deputy Director of the Shanghai Municipal Commission of Commerce Zhang Jie said data from around the world show that cruise markets tend to develop quickly when the per capita GDP exceeds 10,000.

“As for Shanghai, the per capita GDP has already exceeded 25,000, and this will be the foundation for the development of its cruise economy,” he said.

“Shanghai had good cooperative ties with the international cruise community before the pandemic, and it is believed that more international cruise companies will speed up their return to the Chinese market.” Global cruise companies have indeed been increasing efforts to tap the Shanghai market. Royal Caribbean International and the Mediterranean Shipping Company, for example, announced plans to operate cruise routes from Shanghai starting next year.

Adora Magic City, China’s first large, domestically made cruise ship, which completed its first trials in July, will also embark on its maiden voyage from Shanghai next year.

Vice Governor of Shanghai’s Baoshan district Xue Sasa, where the Wusongkou cruise terminal is located, said that three large cruise ships will begin home port operations at Wusongkou next year. They will offer about 150 routes. Among them is the MSC Bellissima, which comes with an 80-metre LED canopy, 32 gourmet experiences, a 700-square-metre Lego park, waterslides and a ship-in-ship yacht club.

Starting from March next year, tourists will be able to board the ship from Wusongkou in Baoshan district.

The Royal Caribbean’s Spectrum of the Seas plans to return to Shanghai in April. This ship, which has the largest indoor sports hall at sea, offers passengers sporting options like surfing, skydiving and rock climbing.

According to Xue, about 1.2 million tourists are expected to depart from the Wusongkou terminal next year. To handle this large volume of passengers, the district has been optimising customs clearance, and improving the infrastructure of its ports.

The International Cruise Terminal on the North Bund in Shanghai’s Hongkou district is expected to become the home port for at least 18 international cruises next year.

The terminal is currently in the midst of developing a more diverse range of cruises to attract domestic and international tourists, according to the district government. – He Qi