Ocean dreams no longer in the distant horizon

Updated: 2012-08-20 15:40

By Shi Jing (China Daily)

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New infrastructure for cruises propels sector in Shanghai

The dream of embarking on an ocean getaway is now within easy reach of Chinese travelers keen on taking the less-traveled path.

Costa Cruises, the first large international cruise company to operate in China, was granted wholly-foreign-owned enterprise status in November, which the company says will help it develop its business in China.

Ocean dreams no longer in the distant horizon

The cruise liner Costa Victoria docks at the Shanghai Wusongkou International Cruise Port. Costa Cruises expects to have 400,000 passengers from China this year. [Photo / China Daily]

Costa is Europe's top cruise company, in fleet size and number of passengers carried, and has logged 60 years of service.

"The China market is still relatively untapped, unlike that in the West," says Buhdy Bok, vice-president of Pacific Asia and China of Costa Cruises. "It's also a new industry for China, and the government is keen to promote it because it boosts the local tourism industry.

"Some reasons are the natural advantages of Shanghai and the large and increasing middle class who have money and time to spend on new holiday experiences."

Costa has offered "Cruising Italian Style" holidays since 2006, using the ships Costa Allegra, Costa Classica, Costa Romantica and Costa Victoria, the last of which came to China for the first time this year.

"Costa's bookings this year have been very positive in Asia, particularly in China," Bok says.

It is estimated that by the end of the year, Costa will have operated more than 300 cruises carrying about 400,000 people from China, he says.

"Last year we had 300,000 passengers, and 98 percent were satisfied with their cruise. The growth of the market means the Asia-Pacific region is one of the most important for Costa Cruises, particularly China."

With support and encouragement from the local government, Costa Cruises has set 33 departures for Costa Victoria from the new Shanghai Wusongkou International Cruise Port as the home port to Japan and South Korea this year.

This year, too, under the banner "Italy at Sea", Costa launched what was said to be Asia's first fashion cruise, on the 75,200-ton Costa Victoria, which can carry 2,394 passengers. It set out from Wusongkou.

Apart from a fashion show, the cruise offered duty-free prices, performances by a Michael Jackson impersonator, other live music, games and competitions.

While the "Italy at Sea" theme is played up to the hilt, the cruise also has many "Asian elements" to put passengers at ease, Bok says.

"We ... have tailored it to the Chinese market. For example, we provide Chinese food in addition to Italian food, there are mahjong tables and the trips to Japan and South Korea have been designed with our Chinese customers in mind. We've combined our core Italian style with local characteristics."

Encouraged by the positive response to cruise travel in China, the company will increase its investment by deploying a second cruise ship, Costa Atlantica, to Asia, he says.

The ship is due to arrive in Shanghai next year, and demonstrates the company's confidence in the Chinese market and its commitment to promote Shanghai as a leading international shipping center in the region, Bok says.

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