Chinese tourists on Taishan cruise ship receive a robust welcome on arrival at the port of Vladivostok, Russia. (VITALIY ANKOV / FOR CHINA DAILY)
But experts caution new business model needed to reap profits from growing offshore tourist sector
Southern China's ports are striving to develop a cruise industry, as a new driver to expand their economies, but experts say it is paramount for them to explore a new business model in their hunt to make profits.
Prince Bay Cruise Homeport in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, officially started operations on Nov 12, marking a milestone in the takeoff of the city's cruise industry.
The first cruise liner dropping anchor was the SuperStar Virgo owned by Genting Hong Kong－the leading global leisure, entertainment and hospitality company－and it left on Sunday for a six-day trip with 1,445 passengers to Vietnam.
The six-star Silver Shadow cruise liner is also expected to set sail from the homeport in January next year.
The homeport is wholly-owned by Shenzhen-based and listed China Merchants Shekou Industrial Zone Holdings Ltd (CMSK), a subsidiary of the State-owned conglomerate China Merchants Group (CMG).
The whole harbor district covers an area of 697,640 square meters, with a total building area of 1700,000 square meters. The biggest berth among its total 15 can allow the world's biggest, 220,000-metric-tons grand cruiseliners, to call.
CMSK said it was currently at the first stage of construction and more berths would be established soon after getting approval from the government.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong and Guangzhou received one of the largest cruiseships in Asia－the maiden cruise of Dream Cruises, also operated by Genting Hong Kong, on the same day.
Experts said they believe the burgeoning cruise industry in China could bring a new market to revive the sluggish port economies, but say the key is to find a sustainable development model.
China's port industry is developing at a very slow speed, said Chen Yingming, vice director of the China Ports & Harbors Association.
He said China's port throughput had increased only 2.2 percent in the first nine months of 2016 compared with the same period of last year－the lowest growth rate in the sector's history.
But the cruise industry by contrast is growing in double digits. China's 10 cruise ports received 629 cruises and 2.48 million people sailed on cruises in 2015, up by 35 and 44 percent respectively over the previous year, according to China National Tourism Administration data.
Chen said even with passenger volumes exploding, few of these ten ports were making profits, because the vessels were only passing through the port and the services these port provided were limited.
In the past, the traditional function of a port was for people and cargos to go in and out, but now a new innovative tourism product is needed to be developed, he added.
Xu Yongjun, general manager of CMSK, said the company was exploring a new strategy for port management, starting with the Prince Bay homeport in Shenzhen.