A cruise ship themed on the Italian city caters to the burgeoning China market
A HUGE liner designed entirely for Chinese tourists around the ever-romantic theme of Venice sets sail from Italy this week hoping to consolidate Costa Cruises in the vast and burgeoning Chinese tourism market.
The Costa Venezia left the Fincantieri shipyard in northeastern Italy last week for neighbouring Trieste. From there, it will head for China where it will carry up to 5,260 Chinese tourists on cruises from Shanghai to Japan, along with a healthy dose of Venetian kitsch, gondolas and all.
The Costa Venezia, a ship specially designed for Chinese tourists on the theme of Venice, leaves the port of the shipbuilding Italian company Fincantieri. /AFP
In a sign of the gap to be filled in the Chinese market, a sister ship will be launched next year by Italy’s Costa Cruises, part of the huge Carnival Corporation.
The launching of Costa Venezia “is a very important moment in the history of Costa in China,” says the company’s Asia president Mario Zanetti.
“This is the first ship we’re putting on the market, conceived since the start for Chinese tourists.”
Italy-based Costa was the first to offer cruises to the Chinese 13 years ago.
“It was really Costa Cruises that started this type of tourism in China, in 2006, and now the Chinese market has become the second in the world, after North America,” notes Giuliano Noci, lecturer in strategy at Milan Polytechnic business school.
The Canal Grande restaurant onboard the Costa Venezia cruise /AFP
“From 2013 to 2016, the Chinese cruise market grew by 70 per cent year-on-year, an impressive figure compared to Western markets,” Noci adds.
After a slight drop in 2017 when China cut South Korean cruise destinations because of tensions over the deployment of a US anti-missile system, numbers are set to take off again.
Over the last 10 years the Chinese market has reached 2.5 million cruise passengers while a total of around 140 million Chinese are travelling abroad, Zanetti says.
“Cruises represent only around two per cent of the Chinese going to foreign countries for their holidays. That shows you the potential for this market, which could become the world’s biggest,” he enthuses.
A Chinese waitress dresses as a Venetian Gondoliero. /AFP
But, warns Noci, “growth will also depend on what’s on offer, especially how they can attract tourists from central China with innovative marketing. Shanghai inhabitants alone currently account for 40 per cent of Chinese cruise ship customers.”
Companies will also have to target the wealthy 25-40 year-old age group “which doesn’t want just a cultural experience but a real adventure,” he points out.
Even as it cruises the high seas, the Costa Venezia takes passengers on a journey through Venice, via the central Saint Mark’s Square bar to original gondolas and waiting staff dressed as gondoliers.
The prow of the Costa Venezia /AFP
The ship also offers 11 karaoke rooms and plenty of gambling opportunities. Alongside Italian cuisine, the restaurants will serve authentic Chinese dishes to accommodate guests’ dietary requirements.
Costa Cruises is investing six billion euros (Bt240 billion) from 2018 to 2023 to buy seven ships, after which it will have a fleet of 34, including five cruise ships in Asia.
Costa’s owner Carnival is also working with Fincantieri and the China State Shipbuilding Corporation to build vessels in China, despite worries that technology transfers will enable Chinese shipbuilders to take over.
But Zanetti dismisses those concerns, saying they are working “in a spirit of partnership and in a market that has such a low penetration. The more cruise companies are present in the market, the more there are opportunities for growth.”