Viking Cruises has launched multiple inbound cruise routes

China Merchants-Yidun, the first Chinese-flagged luxury ocean cruise ship, docks in Shanghai in March 2023. [CHINA DAILY]

Viking Cruises is planning to introduce multiple inbound cruise routes for foreign visitors this fall, providing them options for sightseeing in China, and contribute to the high-quality growth of inbound tourism in the country, the Norwegian cruise line operator said.

China will adopt a visa-free policy for Switzerland, Ireland, Hungary, Austria, Belgium and Luxembourg on a trial basis, starting March 14.

In late November, China announced a 15-day visa-free policy for short-term stays of citizens from France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Malaysia, and the number of inbound foreign visitors has grown steadily since.

Fueled by a strong recovery in China’s tourism market, Viking plans to launch four inbound routes of 10 to 20 days. The voyages will be operated by China Merchants-Yidun, the first Chinese-flagged luxury ocean cruise ship.

These routes will stop at cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong, as well as smaller cities such as Fuzhou, Fujian province and Wenzhou, Zhejiang province. Some ports in China will receive international tourists for the first time, the company said.

“We will become the first cruise liner to provide inbound routes within China for international travelers. As one of the countries with the richest cultural heritages, China’s splendid culture has attracted tourists from all over the world,” said Torstein Hagen, chairman of Viking Cruises.

During the Spring Festival holiday this year, the main source countries for inbound visitors included the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Singapore and Russia, said the China Tourism Academy.

Viking said the four new inbound routes will only target international visitors whose native language is English. Those routes will showcase China’s folk arts, history and culture to foreign visitors and combine them with local delicacies and English tour guides.

For the 20-day tour, the trip will start and conclude in Beijing, and stop by inland cities such as Chengdu, Sichuan province; Lhasa, the Xizang autonomous region; and Xi’an, Shaanxi province. The inland itineraries will be operated by flights, it said.

Dai Bin, president of the China Tourism Academy, said China’s magnificent mountains and rivers, splendid culture, and high-quality economic and social development are increasingly strong attractions for people across the world.

“Following the comprehensive recovery of inbound tourism, China also needs to prepare for a series of services for foreign visitors, including tour guides in different languages, catering, accommodation, and retail,” Dai said.

Meanwhile, after China optimized its COVID-19 response measures, the demand for cruise trips from Chinese travelers has been growing steadily. International and domestic cruise operators are bullish about the long-term prospects of the cruise tourism market in China.

China’s first domestically developed large cruise ship, the Adora Magic City, carrying more than 3,000 tourists, embarked on its inaugural commercial voyage from Shanghai to Kagoshima, Japan, and Jeju, South Korea, on Jan 1.

During this year’s Spring Festival holiday, cruise tourism in Shanghai continued to be popular. The Shanghai border inspection authorities inspected a total of four inbound and outbound cruise ships, handling over 21,200 inbound and outbound passenger trips.

Besides, US cruise line operator Royal Caribbean International plans to launch cruise trips from Shanghai to multiple Japanese destinations on four to seven-night trips in late April. The ship, custom-designed for Chinese travelers, is the sole mega-size international luxury cruise liner operating in Asia.

“Luxury cruise ships serve as captivating landmarks in coastal international metropolises, promoting cultural exchanges between China and other countries, and bolstering Shanghai’s position as the Asia-Pacific international cruise hub,” said Liu Zinan, senior vice-president and chairman of Asia at Royal Caribbean Group.

“It will also help with stimulating demand within related industries, generating employment opportunities and income, and carrying significant socioeconomic importance,” Liu said.

This year, the global cruise tourism market is expected to witness 35.7 million passenger trips, exceeding the pre-pandemic level seen in 2019, the Cruise Lines International Association projected.

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