CLIA: What the Asian Cruise Boom Means for North American Travel Agents

The 2016 "big picture" for Asian cruising // Infographic by CLIA

Asian-sourced cruising is growing at a record pace and shows no signs of slowing down, according to the new “2016 Asia Cruise Trends” study released today by Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA).

Thirty-one international and regional cruise lines – representing 95 percent of Asian cruise capacity -- contributed data analyzed and compiled for the 48-page report, which is chocked full of facts, figures and trend gleanings.

Top result? Globally, Asian source markets experienced the most growth for ocean cruise passengers between 2014 and 2015 – 24 percent. More than 2.08 million ocean cruise passengers sailed in Asia during 2015. Deployment, capacity and destinations for cruise travel all showed sizable growth.

“The cruise industry has been nimble and responded quickly to the demand for cruise travel in Asia by delivering cruise ships with amenities and experiences tailored to Asian travelers," said Cindy D’Aoust, CLIA's president and CEO. “Asian cruise travel continues to deliver a growing number of enticing opportunities for international guests to visit Asia's fascinating destinations.

"Even we were surprised by 24 percent growth and that is unprecedented," D'Aoust emphasizes. "We see no signs of slowing down."

Top Trends & Tidbits

Dr. Zinan Liu, chair of CLIA North Asia, said, "While we expected Asia to experience record-breaking growth in cruise travel, we are astonished at the rate at which the region is emerging as one of the most significant cruise destinations and cruise source markets in the world."

Here are some of the gleanings from the survey.

More Cruises Offered: More than 1,560 sailings are scheduled throughout Asia for 2016. That’s up 43 percent from last year.

More Days in Asian Operation: CLIA also said the number of days that cruise ships operate in Asia is up sizably as well – from 4,307 operating days in 2013 to 7,918 in 2016.

More Ships: In 2016, 60 ocean cruise ships will sail throughout Asia versus 52 ships in 2015 and 43 ships in 2013. Of all ships sailing this year, 14 operate year-round while another 12 have extended deployment in Asia.

Increased Capacity: The number of berths available for passengers in Asia surged by 54 percent in 2016. As a result, CLIA reports that the overall passenger capacity on ocean cruise ships will reach 3.2 million in 2016.

Demand for Destinations: Cruising in Asia includes more than 204 destinations across 17 countries. Japan is the top destination country for cruise ships with 1,526 port calls in 2016. China had 850 calls, South Korea had 745, Vietnam had 466 and Malaysia had 422, followed by Singapore at 391.

For travel agents who may wonder what the benefit is to the North American trade, D’Aoust emphasizes the growth in port destinations as a big opportunity. She urges agents to talk to clients about the new port options; that could create a conversation leading to a sale.

"It [Asian cruising] also provides a very easy and comfortable environment for travelers to check off their bucket list," D'Aoust tells Travel Agent. "For experienced cruisers who've never had that opportunity [to visit some Asian bucket-list ports], there's an entirely new market." 

Most Visited for 2016?: The most visited port in 2016 is expected to be Jeju Island, South Korea, with 460 calls, followed by Shanghai with 437 calls, Singapore at 391 calls, and Fukuoka, Japan, at 258 visits.

Increase in Chinese Cruisers: From 2012 to 2015, the number of Chinese passengers grew at an annual compounded rate of 66 percent. Growth in 2015 alone was 40 percent. In 2015, 986,000 passengers were from mainland China, representing close to half of the Asian volume, compared to 703,000 in 2014. In both 2014 and 2015, China has been the world's fastest growing major source market.

Asians Love Shorter Cruises: Asian passengers continue to prefer shorter ocean cruise lengths. In 2015, almost three out of ten (30 percent) Asian passengers continued to choose cruises two to three nights in length and half (50 percent) chose four to six night cruises.

That said, almost a fifth of passengers chose extended cruises; 19 percent opted for seven to 13 night cruises. As a result, the average length of cruises taken by Asian passengers has increased slightly from 5.2 nights in 2014 to 5.3 nights in 2015.

Travel Agent asked D’Aoust if exposing more Asians to cruising will have the effect -- as has been the case in the U.S. – of people taking regional cruises first, but then as they become more experienced and more exposed to cruising as a vacation choice, going farther out – say to the Caribbean or Europe.

With more passengers patronizing voyages outside Asia that could increase demand and, over time, keep pricing at a good level. “Absolutely,” D’Aoust responds. “We don’t look at one market into itself.“

She said that while right now most Asian cruisers prefer to travel within Asia, there is still a good outbound market that prefers seven- to 13-day cruises. So they may start with Asia, but then head to the MediterraneanBaltic or elsewhere in the world. “We don’t see any obstacle to that growth,” she notes.

Asians Prefer Asian Ports of Call: While Asian outbound tourism is exploding around the world, CLIA’s study found that 84 percent of Asian cruisers cruise within Asia. The remaining 16 percent flew to cruise destinations outside the region, primarily in Europe with 74 percent of the international volume, followed by Alaska and the Caribbean.

When it comes to nationalities, there are differences – with 23 percent of Japanese cruisers and 30 percent of Indian cruisers traveling outside Asia, yet, in contrast, only 3.6 percent of Chinese cruisers are doing so.

Younger Cruisers: In China, the average age of cruisers is below 43 -- with about 42 percent of cruise travelers below 40 years old. For the region, the same segment represents 38 percent of all cruisers.

Ovation of the Seas arrives at Hong Kong. // Photo by Royal Caribbean International 

Best Ships Matter: To attract Asian travelers, cruise lines know they need to bring their best ships and amenities to the region. New onboard offerings tailored to the Asian guests? Top draws are inclusive onboard activities aimed at multi-generational families, high-end shopping, languages, adapted menus, cabin amenities and high-tech features.

CLIA commissioned the 2016 Asia Cruise Trends study to further develop an in-depth understanding of the quickly evolving cruise marketplace. The research builds upon the 2013 white paper "Information, Intelligence, Insights" and the 2014 Asia Cruise Trends study, also undertaken by CHART Management Consultants.

Super-Charged Capacity Growth

While growth and interest has been robust in Asia, last week Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. reported a bit of softness in close-in demand from Shanghai as part of its quarterly earnings report. Analysts believe that’s not a surprising development given the fast-paced capacity increases.

Richard Fain, the company's chairman, stressed the cruise company itself said it had "absolutely no plans" to transfer or move ships from China. It's all part of the development process. In a Royal Caribbean blog post, Michael Bayley, CEO of Royal Caribbean international, pointed out that "China continues to generate above-average yields."  

Optimistic about Asian market potential, Bayley reports no issue with demand: "The demand is there and the market is there. It's the building of the distribution quickly enough to handle the capacity."

Commenting on the industry’s collective growth, D’Aoust acknowledged that it may have been a challenge to “find pace” at the outset and also noted that many ships deployed in Asia are either mega- or large ships with the most attractive amenities and high-tech resources. So expansion, while fast-paced, was needed to jump into the marketplace in a bigger way.   

Given that there are 4.8 billion people in Asia, the potential for developing new cruisers is enormous, notes D'Aoust: "We’re confident demand could continue to grow and outstep the capacity." 

The Asian market has many pluses for cruise lines. Among them, Asians spend more time on the ships, typically a good sign for onboard revenue growth. D'Aoust also said the average Asian cruiser is under 40, which is younger than is traditionally the case.

Nearly 20 percent of Asian cruisers also prefer cruises of seven to 13 nights in length and have indicated a willingness to try UK, Ireland, Baltic and Europe cruises, so “that could spell growth in all global cruise markets” over time, she believes.

As cruisers from Asia navigate to places like the Caribbean, they could supplement normal North American and European demand, helping price integrity.  

2016 Outlook

This year, 31 cruise brands are active in Asia with 60 ships. The lines will operate 1,560 cruises this year, versus 1,095 in 2015. Total Asian cruise passengers this year will be 3.1 million, up from 2 million a year ago.

Most capacity, not unexpectedly, is on mega-ships – with two in the region – as well as on 15 large ships. Twenty-one mid-sized ships will sail in Asia, plus 16 upscale smaller ships and six expedition ships. 

Asia-to-Asia cruises and short cruises will dominate the itineraries. More than 1,473 voyages are planned. Another 87 voyages will “pass through” the region.

Nearly 50 percent will be four-to-six-night cruises, while nearly 38 percent will be two-to-three-night cruises.

Some 5,500 port calls are scheduled this year in Asia. Japan, China and South Korea will welcome the most calls. Sixteen Asian ports will each host more than 100 calls this year.

So, "get in there, educate [yourself] and understand the product offerings," she advises travel agents who want to increase revenue. "Learn which ships are going to be deployed year-round and which ones are going to be deployed seasonally there."

Do what agents do best, she says: "Match travel desire with a cruise experience. It is a huge opportunity."

For highlights and to dig down farther into research for such individual markets as China, Taiwan, Japan, Cambodia and other Asian nations, travel agents can read the complete "2016 Asian Cruise Trends" report.

Suggested Articles:

The adults-only resort is offering all-inclusive rates starting from $299 per room and special Thanksgiving festivities. Learn more here.

CommonPass establishes a standard method for lab results and vaccination records to be certified across borders. Here's what you need to know.

Poseidon Expeditions has introduced its new 2022 Arctic and 2022-23 Antarctic polar cruise seasons three months earlier than usual. Read more here.