On the tropical island province of Hainan, the cruise ship industry is expected to enjoy a golden growth period, fueled by local geographical advantages and an increasingly popular tourism market.
Sanya International Cruise Development Co Ltd－a joint venture founded by COSCO Shipping and China National Travel Service (HK)Group Corp in 2015－signed a cooperation agreement with Beijing-based travel agency Caissa Touristic in late May, and the two sides will together tap cruise tour market demand in Hainan.
Following the new Master Plan for Construction of Hainan Free Trade Port released on June 1, 2020, Sanya－known for its seaside resorts－is expected to be built into an international home port for cruise ships.
"We will focus on developing the domestic cruise tourism market and strengthen the research and development of cruise travel products and the building of a comprehensive industrial chain," said Zhang Hao, chief executive officer of Sanya International Cruise Development.
Jin Ying, chief executive officer of Caissa Touristic, said the cruise tour sector in Sanya is expected to witness considerable growth opportunities, and the two companies will together contribute to the building of Sanya into an international homeport for cruise ships.
E-Food, a catering branch of Caissa, has built its base in Sanya and recently expanded food services for cruises. Currently, E-Food serves as the largest catering supplier for high-speed trains in China, according to Caissa.
Meanwhile, cruising tours from Sanya to the Xisha Islands in the South China Sea have been a unique option for tourists from the Chinese mainland. Since 2013, the Xisha Islands opened public tourism to travelers from the Chinese mainland, though not many people have been there so far.
Most small islets of Xisha are made up of coral deposits, and the unpolluted marine area has been rated as one of the most beautiful island groups by Chinese National Geography magazine.
In December, two cruise ships operated by Nanhai Cruising resumed operations after the COVID-19 pandemic was increasingly brought under better control in China. So far this year, cruise tours operated by Nanhai Cruising have been popular among domestic travelers, according to Beijing-based online travel agency Qunar, without disclosing specific data.
Hainan Ruize New Building Material Co Ltd, a company that manufactures building materials, introduced a large luxury cruise ship in March, indicating the company is expanding its business operations to the tourism sector.
The company said that due to the ongoing pandemic overseas, major foreign cruise operators had to suspend operations, and the huge financial pressure forced some companies to sell their ships to alleviate cash flow pressures.
With more availability of ships, purchasing costs of cruise ships have dropped, providing a good opportunity for domestic companies to purchase ships at lower costs and further develop in the sector, Hainan Ruize said.
The company said it believes the cruise sector has a remarkable growth potential, and it will become a sector with long-term growth in Hainan, given its geographical advantages and support from favorable policies. The design of cruise routes in Hainan could be diversified to include tours around the island, for example.
Century Cruise, a major cruise operator on the Yangtze River, said the company is trying to collaborate with more cruise operators and serve more ports of call.
Liu Jianbin, a partner of Century Cruise, said leisure travel-related activities on major waterways should be encouraged in addition to transportation, though multiple challenges exist for such a shift. Yet, Liu said he would like to give it a try when the right opportunity comes, according to reports on news portal Jiemian.