China appears to be the new epicenter of the global cruise industry as rivals Carnival Corp. and Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. (RCCL) both boost capacity out of Shanghai.
Carnival Corp. announced on May 12 that it will deploy four ships in Shanghai in 2015, increasing its cruise capacity in China by 140 percent from 2013.
The move follows RCCL’s surprising announcement last month that the splashy new 4,180-guest Quantum of the Seas would move to Shanghai in May 2015 after operating just six months from New Jersey’s Cape Liberty. What’s more, RCCL on May 9 revealed plans for a fourth Oasis-class vessel, leading industry observers to speculate that one of the world’s largest cruise ships would set sail for Asia soon.
Here’s how Carnival’s China deployment shakes out: The 3,780-passenger Costa Serena, part of Carnival’s Italian cruise brand Costa Cruises, will be based in China year-round starting in April 2015, joining two fleetmates — the 2,680-guest Costa Atlantica and 2,394-passenger Costa Victoria. Carnival’s Princess Cruises brand also will operate the 2,670-passenger Sapphire Princess out of Shanghai from May 21 through September. Princess will return to China in 2015, but the exact deployment won't be announced until the fall.
“We have never been more committed to China as a market of great strategic importance for our company, and with today’s news we will be the only global cruise company to have four ships operating out of China,” Carnival Corp. CEO Arnold Donald said in a press release.
What’s prompting this growth? Carnival Corp. says China is expected to become the second-largest cruise market in the world by 2017. Currently, the U.S. is the biggest cruise market by far, generating more than half of the estimated 21.7 million passengers who sail on ships operated by members of the Cruise Lines International Association this year.
Carnival’s Costa brand began sailing from China in 2006. The corporation now operates 10 offices in Asia, including five locations in China — Shanghai, Beijing, Tianjin, Guangzhou, and Chengdu. Carnival also is growing in Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Korea.
Meanwhile, RCCL’s newbuild plans include a third 5,400-passenger Oasis-class ship for delivery in spring 2016 followed by the fourth in 2018. They join the 225,282-gross-ton Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas, which entered service in 2009 and 2010 and share the title of the world’s largest cruise ships. Operating out of Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, they continue to generate premium fares and are especially popular with families.
So where will the third and fourth Oasis-class ships operate? “We believe that over the next 12-18 months, RCL could announce the movement of an Oasis-class ship to Asia (at least for part of the year),” Timothy Conder, a financial analyst with Wells Fargo Securities, wrote in a research note.
Rod McLeod, a veteran cruise executive who now consults in the industry, said an Asia deployment for an Oasis-class ship is likely under consideration, although he thinks Europe might come first, possibly with a homeport in the U.K. The company is testing Europe this fall when the Oasis of the Seas offers a few cruises as it heads for a dry dock in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. And next summer, Allure of the Seas will sail in Europe, offering round-trips from Barcelona and Civitavecchia near Rome.
“Knowing what I know today and what I’ve seen over the last couple of years, I would say Europe is the logical next step for them,” McLeod said. “However, I wouldn’t be shocked — I’d be surprised but not shocked — to see them move one (Oasis-class ship) over to Asia. … The Quantum is a significant commitment to the Asia market.
They still have another card up their sleeve, if they choose to use it, and that is to put an Oasis-class ship over there. I’m not saying it’s going to happen anytime soon, but as an option down the road, it’s has to be there.”
By Theresa Norton Masek, Travel Pulse
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