What slumping demand for cruises says about Chinese tourists

WESTERNERS IMAGINE Chinese travellers to be different from them. The rise in the number of large tour groups in European cities has stoked fears of “overtourism” among locals. Chinese tourists’ supposed preference for only visiting popular landmarks, their taste for Chinese food and their addiction to luxury shopping are widely mocked. But the tastes of Chinese travellers are, in fact, rapidly converging with international norms—nowhere more so than on cruise ships.

America dominates the cruise industry. Carnival, Royal Carribean and Norwegian Cruise Line, which control nearly 80% of the global market between them, are based there. Just over half of the 26m people who went on a cruise in 2018 were American, reckons Cruise Market Watch, a data-provider. But China is catching up. Between 2013 and 2016 number of Chinese cruise-goers grew at a compound annual rate of 70%. In 2016 they overtook Germans to become the second-biggest cruise-going nation. Last year 2.4m Chinese holidayed on the high seas, spending around $3bn out of a global total of $46bn.

Now the industry is entering choppy waters in China, even as cruise passenger numbers increase almost everywhere else. Chinese passenger numbers dipped by 1-2% in 2018 and are estimated to fall by a further 5-15% this year. What happened?

Cruise lines owed their early...



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