Cruise lines in China
Not what it was
What slumping demand for cruises says about Chinese tourists
WESTERNERS IMAGINE Chinese travellers to be different from them. The rise in the number of large tour groups in European cities has stoked fears of “overtourism” among locals. Chinese tourists’ supposed preference for only visiting popular landmarks, their taste for Chinese food and their addiction to luxury shopping are widely mocked. But the tastes of Chinese travellers are, in fact, rapidly converging with international norms—nowhere more so than on cruise ships.
America dominates the cruise industry. Carnival, Royal Carribean and Norwegian Cruise Line, which control nearly 80% of the global market between them, are based there. Just over half of the 26m people who went on a cruise in 2018 were American, reckons Cruise Market Watch, a data-provider. But China is catching up. Between 2013 and 2016 number of Chinese cruise-goers grew at a compound annual rate of 70%. In 2016 they overtook Germans to become the second-biggest cruise-going nation. Last year 2.4m Chinese holidayed on the high seas, spending around $3bn out of a global total of $46bn.
美国主导了邮轮业。嘉年华、皇家加勒比和诺唯真这三家邮轮公司控制了全球市场的近80％，它们的总部都在美国。据数据供应商“邮轮市场观察”（Cruise Market Watch）估计，2018年乘坐邮轮的2600万人中，美国人占了一半略多。但中国正在迎头赶上。2013年到2016年间，参加邮轮游的中国游客数量的年复合增长率为70％。2016年，他们的人数超过了德国人，中国因而晋升为全球第二大邮轮客源地。去年有240万中国人在公海上度假，在全球总计460亿美元的邮轮游消费中贡献了30亿美元。
Now the industry is entering choppy waters in China, even as cruise passenger numbers increase almost everywhere else. Chinese passenger numbers dipped by 1-2% in 2018 and are estimated to fall by a further 5-15% this year. What happened?
Cruise lines owed their early success to offering Chinese tourists what they wanted: “floating shopping malls with casinos” in the words of David Beckel of Bernstein, a research firm. At sea they could bypass the country’s strict gambling laws (just as the original American “booze cruises” in the 1920s were a way of getting around Prohibition) and snap up duty-free Western brands. Shops on Royal Carribean and Carnival voyages were regularly stripped bare of everything from Bulgari necklaces to South Korean rice cookers.
No longer, it seems. Chinese tastes are fast becoming more sophisticated, observes Alex Dichter of McKinsey, a consultancy. Surveys suggest that visiting landmarks and shopping have been dethroned as top reasons for travelling. Nowadays taking a break from work to recharge and to experience local cultures tend to be the top of the list. The emphasis is on experiences, not things—like travellers in the West, in other words. Oliver Wyman, a consultancy, found that the share of Chinese holiday spending on shopping fell from 41% in 2016 to 32% by 2018.
现在的情形似乎不复往日。咨询公司麦肯锡的亚历克斯·迪希特（Alex Dichter）认为，中国人的品味正在迅速提高。调查显示，游览标志性景点和购物已不再是中国人出游的首要原因。如今，放下工作为自己充充电和体验当地文化往往是最重要的原因。他们注重的是体验，而不是有形的事物——换句话说，就和西方旅行者一样。咨询公司奥纬（Oliver Wyman）发现，中国人的购物支出在度假总消费中的占比从2016年的41％下降到了2018年的32％。
As a result, cruise lines that have gone too native, or that rely too much on shopping for profits, have suffered. Norwegian launched its first ship built especially for China in 2017, armed with shops, gambling machines, Asian restaurants and a karaoke bar. Two years later, amid disappointing ticket sales, Norwegian spent $50m ripping out all the Chinese fripperies and moved the ship to Alaskan fjords. In 2018 Royal Caribbean scuttled SkySea Cruises, a joint venture with Ctrip, a Chinese online travel agency, when it discovered it could make more money running its own vessels with fewer nods to local taste. Carnival maintains its joint venture with CSSC, a state-owned Chinese firm. One reason might be to appease regulators keen to boost Chinese shipyards’ order books.
Royal Caribbean has found it more lucrative to offer a Western experience at sea at a premium price than to compete against cheap Chinese resorts. It is among the few lines in China that makes money, claims Richard Fain, its executive chairman. It is still adding more ships. On June 6th?Spectrum of the Seas, its newest vessel, embarked on its maiden voyage from Shanghai carrying nearly 5,000 passengers.
皇家加勒比发现，比起与廉价的中国度假村竞争，以高价在海上提供西方体验更有利可图。其执行董事长理查德·费恩（Richard Fain）称，它是在中国少数赚钱的邮轮公司之一。皇家加勒比还在扩大船队。6月6日，其最新的邮轮“海洋光谱号”（Spectrum of the Seas）载着近5000名乘客从上海启动首航。
Mr Fain thinks that the Chinese market will eventually rebound. Analysts at Goldman Sachs, a bank, reckon that just 0.5% of potential passengers in China took a cruise in 2017, compared with over 4% in America. Pierfrancesco Vago, executive chairman of MSC Cruises, the world’s fourth-largest line, blames regulation. Western lines cannot sail between two Chinese ports. China is thinking about relaxing some of these rules, but only for domestic firms, which are few in number and tiny in size. To grow, they—and their regulators—may need to turn international.
费恩认为中国市场最终会反弹。高盛分析师估计，2017年中国仅有0.5％的潜在乘客乘坐了邮轮，在美国这个数字超过4％。世界第四大邮轮公司地中海邮轮（MSC Cruises）的执行董事长皮尔弗朗西斯科·瓦戈（Pierfrancesco Vago）将这归咎于监管。西方邮轮公司不能在两个中国港口之间航行。中国正考虑放宽这些规则中的一部分，但仅限于对本土企业，它们数量少，规模也小。这些企业若要成长，它们以及监管者可能需要向国际靠拢。