On Oct. 1, the 930-passenger Zhao Shang Yidun (or China Merchants Eden) departed from Shenzhen on an eight-day “Charming South China Sea” cruise. It’s a landmark voyage, and not just because it transits one of the world’s most hotly disputed waterways. The ship, jointly operated by Viking Cruises Ltd. and state-owned China Merchants Group, is the first five-star luxury ship dedicated solely to the Chinese market. Its maiden voyage is the result of a 15-year bet on the part of the government that cruising is the future of Chinese tourism.
Indeed, over the recent National Day Holiday, duty-free purchases on Hainan, the tropical island province at which the ship will make brief stops, surged by 359% over 2019. Sure enough, a September survey of Chinese traveler sentiment found a growing willingness to venture out if safety precautions were taken.
It’s a moment for which the government has been preparing for years. Last month, Shanghai Waigaoqiao Shipbuilding Co. completed the structural work for the first large cruise ship to be built in China. When it’s completed in 2023, it’s a good bet that plenty of tourists, anxious after years of Covid restrictions, will be ready to board the next booming era of Chinese travel.
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