In another sign that U.S. cruise companies are serious about building a business in China, Royal Caribbean International said it will homeport another new Quantum-class vessel there.
The decision means that two of the three Quantum-class ships will be earmarked for China, with only the second in the series, the Anthem of the Seas, homeported in the U.S.
When completed in 2016 by the Fincantieri shipyard, the 4,000-passenger Ovation of the Seas will head almost directly for its new year-round homeport, Tianjin, China.
It will make only one non-Chinese cruise, a 52-day Global Voyage to Tianjin departing May 3, 2016, from Southampton, England.
At a news conference in Beijing, Royal President Michael Bayley said the line had captured the imagination of Chinese cruisers with its decision last year to put its new Quantum of the Seas in Shanghai.
The move will give Royal five ships — a fifth of its fleet — serving the China market by 2016, sailing from four ports spanning the length of the country, from Tianjin in the north to Hong Kong in the south.
A recent study by the Hong Kong Tourism Board identified 83 million potential cruisers in China's seven major metro areas.
Other companies are trying to mine the Chinese market, as well. Carnival Corp. is operating four ships from Shanghai this year and is partnering with a Chinese company to explore shipbuilding there. Norwegian Cruise Line has set up a task force to evaluate entry into the China market, and MSC Cruises is said to be looking at putting a newbuild there.
So far, Royal Caribbean is the only line to deploy any newbuild to China, which, for all its potential, remains less than a 10th of the 11 million-passenger North American market.
Although the sales opportunity for Quantum-class ships for North American travel agents will be limited to the Anthem of the Seas, Bayley pointed out that with the recent decision to deploy the Harmony of the Seas to Florida, all three of the Oasis-class ships will sail from U.S. ports next year.
The 5,400-passenger Harmony, expected in June 2016, will join the Allure of the Seas at Port Everglades, while the Oasis of the Seas will move to Port Canaveral.
Carnival Cruise Line will return to Europe in the summer of 2016 with the debut of the Carnival Vista. It will cruise there until a late fall repositioning to Florida.
The Ovation will join Quantum, Legend, Mariner and Voyager of the Seas in China, sailing three- to 12-day itineraries to South Korea, Japan, Vietnam and Taiwan. The Quantum and Mariner will sail from Shanghai, and the Voyager will be based in Hong Kong. The Legend will sail initially from Tianjin in 2016 then move to Xiamen for the remainder of the season.
To help staff its ships, Royal created a curriculum with the Tianjin Maritime College. It said it has hired 3,000 students since the program's inception in August.
Royal said it is also exploring drydock options in China for the Legend of the Seas in 2018 and logistics centers in China to supply its growing China-based fleet.
A program for inbound North American tourism in China is also being discussed.
Royal said the 52-day cruise on the Ovation between Southampton and Tianjin would also be offered in five shorter segments. Passengers can choose a seven-night cruise from Southampton to Barcelona, Spain; a 16-night voyage between Barcelona and Dubai; a 14-night India and Southeast Asia cruise ending in Singapore; a three-night Malaysian itinerary, sailing roundtrip from Singapore; and a 12-night final leg to Tianjin.
Sales for the Global Voyage and its segments opened on March 26.