More China cruise itineraries changing amid South Korea standoff

More companies with Shanghai-based ships are reviewing itineraries More companies with Shanghai-based ships are reviewing itineraries

Itinerary options for short cruises from China are limited and pose the immediate challenge for cruise lines cancelling calls to South Korean ports following a political spat between the two countries.

Three-night cruises from Shanghai or Tianjin could become sailings to nowhere since Japan can't be reached, and four-night cruises that previously visited a port in Korea and a port in Japan would simply drop Korea, an Asia-based cruise expert said.

He speculated these changes could lead to significant port congestion.At the end of an anxious week for the cruise industry in North Asia as political tensions reached new heights, both Royal Caribbean and Costa confirmed they will cancel South Korean port visits from their ex-China cruises.

In a post on its Chinese website, Royal Caribbean said it would remove visits to popular South Korea sites due to 'recent developments regarding the situation in South Korea.'

Royal Caribbean International ships will cease calling at South Korean ports from March 15 to June 30. This involves 36 cruises in total of which 17 will instead add more Japan calls, 14 will replace Korea with sea days, three itineraries will be sold as 'Festival on the Sea' and two sailings will be used for ship maintenance. The effected ships are Quantum of the Seas, Ovation of the Seas and Voyager of the Seas.

Carnival's Costa Cruises said, 'it will remove calls to South Korean ports for upcoming cruises home-ported out of China, replacing them with cruising at sea or calls to destinations in Japan.'

SkySea Cruises, the jv between Royal Caribbean Cruises and Ctrip, has also dropped SkySea Golden Era calls to South Korea.

The itinerary changes are in response to the Chinese government advising travel companies to halt trips to South Korea following tensions over Seoul's deployment of a US missile defense system.

Dickson Chin, Wallem Ship Agency md told Seatrade Cruise News that the cruise industry had begun to feel, China’s more ‘aggressive’ approach to economic ‘sanction’ against South Korea.

According to Korea Tourism Organization some 46.5% of all tourists monthly and 98,340 of the 129,411 cruise passenger arrivals in January 2017, were from China.

Scheduled deployments to North Asia this year include Norwegian Joy, Ovation of the Sea, MSC Splendida, Majestic Princess and Costa Cruises’  fifth ship in Asia, Costa neoRomantica.

Royal Caribbean International has the largest ships in China and some 30 cruises scheduled to call at Korea. 'The immediate challenge for the cruise lines are to look for alternative ports to replace calls in Korea and with relatively short itineraries (3-5 days) for ships home-ported in China, and options are limited,' said Chin.

The longer term impact could well influence the cruise lines for future commitment to the region, given its instability, despite the growth potential of China,' he noted.

Chin said all of Wallem’s Asia offices, from Shanghai to Singapore, have been in regular touch with all their respective terminals and ports, to obtain latest berth availability.

'For now, we have seen an increased in berth availability in Japan but many of the Japanese ports are already at capacity.'

For the near term it seems cruise ship itineraries will veer towards Japan.

Taiwan is an unlikely option, according to a cruise industry professional based there. He told SCN that due to issues over the Taiwanese president’s refusal to endorse the notion of 'One China' last May, Beijing cut off the flow of tourists. For the ensuing seven months, the number of mainland Chinese tourists to Taiwan fell by 40% year-on-year.


Posted 12 March 2017

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Jacintha  Stephens

Singapore correspondent

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