The Belt and Road Initiative is a new vision and focus of tourism development that will drive China's cruise tourism economy to a brand new era, said experts at an international meeting that attracted more than 700 officials and experts, including top officials from all leading global cruise operators, to Sanya, Hainan province.
While the Belt and Road Initiative is a manifestation of China's neighborhood diplomacy featuring friendship and peaceful development, it has also provided new concepts, new models, new power and new space for the growth of the country's cruise economy, said Wang Hong, an official from Shanghai, at a sideline forum of the two-day 12th China Cruise Shipping Conference and International Cruise Expo, which opened on Monday and highlighted the Belt and Road Initiative as its theme.
"Directed by the new initiative, China's cruise economy will be enhanced from speed and quantity to quality and upgrading," she said.
The Silk Road boasts of the most elite collection of tourism resources, bringing together 80 percent of the world's cultural heritage elements, and more than 60 countries and 4.4 billion people, according to the China Cruise Shipping website, the official website of the event.
The National Tourism Administration said China is expected to transport 150 million Chinese tourists, who will spend $200 billion in the Belt and Road countries during the "13th Five-Year Plan" (2016-2020) period. In return, China will attract 85 million tourists from the Belt and Road countries to travel to China, bringing in about $110 billion in tourism revenue.
"The event has therefore invited representatives of Belt and Road countries, cities, ports and tourism bureaus to discuss the huge new market and cruise line potential," said Zheng Weihang, executive vice-president and general secretary of the China Cruise & Yacht Industry Association.
To date, China has signed bilateral agreements on sea (river) transportation respectively with 36 Belt and Road countries as well as the European Union and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, making it effective that both parties render preferential treatment in port services and taxes to the ships of the other state at local ports. In addition, a number of organizations have been established to facilitate port and maritime cooperation, according to the organizing committee of the conference.
The Chinese cruise market has seen fast growth in recent years and the country has become the world's second-largest market for cruise travel after the United States, according to official figures.
"The number of Chinese tourists departing from domestic ports jumped from fewer than 20,000 in 2006 to 2.14 million in 2016, making up more than 40 percent of the Asian cruise market. Eight international cruise liner ports have been built in cities including Shanghai, Tianjin and Sanya to serve the growing demand for cruise travel," said Zheng.
"China and the whole Asia is the most important market of MSC Group," said Charles (Bud) Darr, executive vice-president of maritime policy and government affairs for MSC Group, at the forum, which closes Tuesday. Like all other major cruise conglomerates, MSC will seek further expansion in China, he added.
"With China entering a new era of development, we are full of confidence of its market and Carnival will further its investment in the country," said Arnold W. Donald, president and chief executive officer for Carnival Corp & plc.
He said the company will supply two newly built cruise ships to the Chinese market by 2020 and in 2026, it will deliver a local cruise ship jointly built with the China State Shipbuilding Corp.
By 2030, China is likely to become the world's largest cruise market, with 8 million to 10 million customers each year, according to the China Communications and Transportation Association.