China Key for Expedition Market Buildup

China’s expedition market grew by some 40 percent last season, making it the second largest source market for passengers behind the United States, according to the 2019 Expedition Market Report by Cruise Industry News.

For the 2017-2018 season, some 8,273 Chinese guests went to Antarctica, and that number was expected to exceed 10,000 for the 2018-2019 season.

That means one in five guests heading to Antarctica on an expedition ship is Chinese.

The growth is coming from more full-ship charters, mainly by Fliggy, which is under the Alibaba umbrella. They had four full-ship charters with Hurtigruten in 2017-2018, and went to five this past season.

“The mass market cruise product has increased the awareness of cruising in China overall,” said Charles Wang, product director of HHTravel, the luxury arm of Ctrip, China’s largest online travel agency. “This has led to consumers looking beyond China to book fly-cruises, including expeditions.”

Hurtigruten is among the market leaders in China, according to Hongbin Li, sales manager, who said he expects the market to continue to grow at between 30 and 50 percent annually. Li said the largest market was Arctic Circle voyages followed by Antarctica. In 2018, the company sourced some 5,000 Chinese guests that went to the Arctic, and 2,000 for Antarctica.

With its Asia-Pacific base in Hong Kong, Hurtigruten concentrates on business-to-business, and does not sell directly to consumers.

Kenneth Keng, president at Amazing Cruises and Travel, which represents Quark Expeditions, said  that China’s outbound growth will continue to be robust.

“While it is unlikely to remain at 40 percent growth annually, Chinese consumers like special travel products and the numerous new ships coming are to their liking,” said Keng. “Also with ice caps melting, they see it as an attractive product with a limited window.” 

“We have received many calls from cruise brands seeking to understand and grow their Chinese sourcing,” said HHTravel’s Wang. “We have regular brainstorming sessions with expedition operators in terms of how to cater their product to the Chinese.”

Hurtigruten has a China-Ready strategy to provide Chinese-speaking expedition team members (and translators for expert talks), service staff and Chinese cuisine for large Chinese groups of more than 30, as well as full ship charters.

“For large groups, we have a Chinese expedition team and announcements made in Chinese, and with more than 100 we will have Chinese chef and Chinese staff onboard,” said Hurtigruten’s Li.

Wang said that high-end luxury expedition lines did not like to take more than a certain amount of each nationality per sailing, unless it was a full ship charter.

“This is a key part of the experience as these clients like to expand their international network with others of similar status,” said Wang.

At HHTravel, groups are limited to 10 for every tour guide who also serves as the translator.

Similar to the traditional sales model in China, Fliggy will charter a ship and then subcharter it to various travel agents.

About the Expedition Market Report:

The 2019 Expedition Market Report by Cruise Industry News is a comprehensive overview of the booming expedition market, profiling 39 operators, over 40 new ships and projecting capacity growth through 2027. The 196-page PDF is a deep dive into all aspects of the expedition cruise market.

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