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Cruise Lines to Sail to More Asia Ports in 2019

Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) member companies will sail to more Asian destinations in 2019 compared with last year, according to new data issued this week by the organization. Yet, the statistics also reveal cruise operators remain largely thwarted in a yearlong effort to grow deployment in the region.

Member-line ships will visit 18 more Asian ports this year compared with 2018, according to CLIA’s 2019 Asia Cruise Deployment and Capacity Report. However, cruise lines have also reduced the number of cruise berths they are dedicating to the region in 2019.

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“Total passenger capacity has been reduced by 5.7 percent year-on-year” following “several years of rapid expansion,” the report adds. CLIA officials attribute the decline to “the reduction of short cruise itinerary options from mainland China.”

Asia port calls will “remain steady,” with 7,154 calls in 2019, and Asia will experience “a slight rise” in passenger destination days (one person staying aboard a ship for one night) this year compared with 2018.

CLIA officials say several destinations, including India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Japan, Hong Kong and South Korea, “will experience growth” this year. All 79 ships from 39 cruise brands will offer Asia itineraries this year, “a similar level to last year,” said CLIA officials in a statement.

Still, fewer berths in the region mean potentially fewer passengers on Asian cruise itineraries, as most guests are sourced from within the region. The cruise lines’ withdrawal of short Chinese itineraries also impacts regional deployment, as Chinese ports have been a staple of Asian cruise itineraries.

Between 2012 and 2016, 216,700 Chinese cruise passengers grew from 216,700 to 2.1 million, according to CLIA data. Chinese passengers totaled 2.6 million in 2017 and were expected to fall to 2.4 million last year, according to a Financial Times report.

Indeed, despite cruise operators’ hopes for wider deployment in the region, Asia remains a niche cruise marketplace. Asia and China itineraries account for 9.2 percent of cruise line deployment, behind markets including Europe (11.1 percent), the Mediterranean (17.3 percent) and the Caribbean (34.4 percent).

Even “all other” cruise itineraries account for 16.2 percent of deployment; meanwhile, China itineraries account for more than one-half (4.9 percent) of the Asian marketplace.

CLIA member line executives have within the past year described the Asian cruise marketplace as a “work in progress” and despite recent setbacks appear committed to a long-term approach to Asian expansion.

“The popularity of cruising in Asia is expected to grow further over [the] coming years as cruise lines deploy new, larger vessels that have been purpose-built for Asian consumers,” said Joel Katz, Managing Director for CLIA Australasia & Asia.

“The coming generation of ships will replace older ships previously based in Asia, and when coupled with new cruise infrastructure in several Asian destinations are expected to fuel strong interest among travelers,” Katz added.

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