Out with the bars and spas, Chinese tourists just want foodcruise firms tailor services to cater to China’s travellers

More international and local cruise companies have been expanding restaurants and shopping facilities on board ships to cater to the demands of Chinese tourists, mainland media reports.

Several cruise line executives interviewed by the news website Thepaper.cn said they had been adapting their business strategies to better meet the needs of travellers from the mainland, which had become the biggest market for the industry, it reported on Tuesday.

MSC Cruises, the Swiss-based cruise company, has also been adapting its offerings to Chinese tastes.

It plans to make Shanghai the home port of its newly refurbished MSC Lirica from May 1.

"On average, every Chinese tourist spends US$200 [HK$1,550] on a cruise trip, with most of the money spent on their meals and shopping," said Liu Jianbin, a cruise division manager at China's leading travel website Tuniu.

"These figures will surely grow even bigger in the future."

Liu said cruise lines had been removing their bar and spa facilities, which did not interest Chinese travellers, and replacing them with restaurant and shopping areas.

Some cruise lines were also providing late-night snacks to cater to the "unquenchable appetite" of Chinese tourists, Liu added.

MSC Lirica will be staffed by a high number of Putonghua-speaking personnel, with as many as 80 per cent of employees able to speak Chinese in some departments.

Staff would be recruited and trained through Chinese schools of excellence, the company said.

It had also added more tables for chess and card games, and removed some deck chairs used for sunbathing on other ships, in response to the demands of mainland travellers, Helen Wang, of the company's Shanghai office, said in a report by the Financial Times.

"Chinese people don't have a 'bar culture'," Wang said in the report. "They do, however, like to shop and gamble."

MSC Lirica is due to arrive in Shanghai after a 60-day voyage from Rio de Janeiro via Barcelona, Marseille, Genoa and Dubai.

The ship will then begin sailing mostly three- and four-day cruises, stopping in South Korea and Japan.

On average, every Chinese tourist spends US$200 [HK$1,550] on a cruise trip, with most of the money spent on their meals and shopping. These figures will surely grow even bigger in the future

LIU JIANBIN, CRUISE DIVISION MANAGER, TUNIU

Royal Caribbean International, a Norwegian-founded, but Miami-based cruise company, set industry tongues wagging in 2014 when it reported that its ship Quantum of the Seas - one of its largest in the world - would make Shanghai its home port from May 2015.

The vessel can carry more than 4,000 passengers, and includes 22 dining options, and was the first of the company's fleet to be tailor-made for the Chinese market.

The move came after the company saw 45 per cent growth in greater China in 2014 compared with the year before.

Statistics released in March by the Beijing-based China Cruise and Yacht Industry Association, shows that there were about 2.5 million mainland tourists taking cruises last year - an increase of 44 per cent compared with the year before.

Over the past few years the cruise line industry has evolved and is no longer dominated by international cruise companies, which have faced strong competition from domestic newcomers.

For example, China's leading travel website, Ctrip, teamed up with Royal Caribbean International in 2013 to form Skysea Holding International, which provides luxury cruise tours for Chinese tourists.

"There is a big difference in spending habits and culture between Chinese tourists and Western tourists," Zhu Ying, marketing director of Skysea was quoted as saying in the report.

"Instead of 'correcting' their habits to fit in with the Western cruise culture, it makes more sense for us to adapt our products to suit their needs."

Source: SCMp