Language dexterity, connectivity, cultural authenticity key to building Asian market

Though Asian-sourced cruise numbers hit another record in 2017, topping 4m, China—accounting for 59% of all Asian passengers, or 2.4m—experienced a slower growth rate due to regulatory issues and some reductions in ship deployment.

Still, this remains a big, enticing market, though one of varied expectations and needs, according to a panel discussion at Seatrade Cruise Asia Pacific in Shanghai Baoshan District on Thursday.

‘Most of the Asia population has not experienced cruise tourism,’ said Joel Katz, md of CLIA Australasia. ‘We should encourage more Asians to board cruise ships as it’s a huge potential source market.’

Japan and the Olympics

The panel considered Japan to be a most likely growth point for Asia’s cruise sector in the coming years, especially when the country hosts the 2020 Olympic Games.

While South Korean calls remain off limits for sailings from China, Taiwan and Hong Kong are expected to maintain their stable development, India prefers investing in its own market but not internationally, and Australia has constraints handling big ships due to terminal limitations for at least the coming five years.

Key Asian source markets include China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and others that are not English-speaking nations, which requires cruise lines to be capable of communicating in a variety of languages, noted Sabrina Bratton, chairman, Asia Pacific, Ponant.

‘We believe that short cruises will still be the foundation of Asia cruise growth while long trip and fly-cruising are areas that need to be further developed,’ said Stuart Allison, svp Asia Pacific commercial and operations, Princess Cruises.

Connectivity and cultural authenticity

How to provide attractive on-board and shore excursion experiences is becoming more important as ways to diversify the products being sold in Asia. Panelists agreed that modern travellers expect better digital services as well as authentic excursion experiences.

‘The most powerful word in travel industry today is "local," emphasized Bruce Krumrine, vp shore excursions, Princess Cruises, Holland America Line, Seabourn and P&O Cruises Australia.

Karen Dawney, director of cruise development for Southeast Asia and China, Akorn DMC, encouraged players to make travel experiences more 'real': ‘We could educate guests on the footprints of our food, to feel the Buddhism culture even just on the iPad. We should [think of] travellers rather than tourists.’

Royal Caribbean International’s director of on-board revenue, Jim Zhou, highlighted three features that Asian guests demand: great food, local adventures and memorable experiences.

Digital solutions

However, an authentic cruise journey cannot live without easy social media access and convenient apps. A perfect digital solution could be another selling point for cruising. ‘We recently launched some applications that can support multiple demands such as speed dial, quick search on nearby hospitals, virtual reality, etc. … to provide better experiences,’ noted Julieanne Yee, regional director Asia, Intercruises Shoreside & Port Services.

The company is going to develop more digital apps to educate the local tourism industry on what cruise lines and passengers are looking for. ‘We always know that technology is a solution,’ Yee added.

Posted 25 October 2018

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Katherine Si

China Correspondent

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