In an announcement today broken on the Seatrade Insider website (www.seatrade-insider.com) Costa Cruises is to deploy a third cruise ship in the increasingly lucrative Chinese market from April of 2015.
The 114,000 ton, 3,780 passenger Costa Serena will be making a series of five and six night cruises to the highlights of Japan and Korea. She joins a year round line up that already includes the mega ships, Costa Victoria and Costa Atlantica.
2015 will also see the Costa Atlantica operate the first ever world cruise aimed solely at Chinese passengers- a massive leap of faith in offering such a deployment on such a large ship.
The addition of this third ship gives Costa an overall capacity of around 9,000 in a market that parent company, Carnival Corporation, is predicting will be the second largest in the world as early as 2017.
In terms of cruising numbers, the UK provided some 1.73 million cruise passengers in 2013, Germany had a figure of 1.69 million, and China had around 471,000 cruising passengers. By 2020, those Chinese numbers are predicted to rise to around 1.6 million.
While the figures for American passengers are obviously higher, this projected explosive expansion of Chinese passengers explains why companies like Costa and Royal Caribbean are reinforcing their positions in that market with premium new tonnage. The market must seem almost limitless.
Jaws dropped by the dozen a couple of weeks ago, when Royal Caribbean announced that it was sending the brand new, ground breaking Quantum Of The Seas out to the Far East, exclusively for the burgeoning Chinese market.
But, for now at least, it is Carnival Corporation that remains in pole position for the Chinese build up. As well as the Costa trio, sister brand, Princess Cruises, also has the 116,000 ton, 2,670 passenger Sapphire Princess operating in the region from May to September.
All of these deployments come against a backdrop of escalating regional tensions between an increasingly assertive pair of age old rivals, China and Japan. In addition, Star Cruises has a pair of 144,000 ton new builds- the first that the line has commissioned this century- coming into the mix in the next few years, though there is no indication as yet that either of these will be dedicated to the Chinese market.
The bottom line is that Asia- Australia- Far East as a whole is increasingly on the radar of the major players in the cruise industry. As the market expands, I expect to see more, newer and more prestigious ships across all the major brands being assimilated straight into this increasingly lucrative market.
As always, stay tuned.
Additional Costa update: The line has also announced that the Costa Classica will be restyled as the Costa NeoClassica in a refit, and will then become the third ship in the Costa NeoCruises brand. In her new guise, the Costa NeoClassica will introduce a new series of Indian Ocean cruises.