The world-famous Costa Victoria cruise ship completed its first voyage to China on Wednesday after arriving at the Shanghai Wusongkou International Cruise Port.
The Costa Victoria, which will depart for the Republic of Korea on Friday, has selected Shanghai to be the homeport for its Asian route.
This year, a total of 62 international cruise liners, including the Voyager of the Seas from Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd, will arrive at Shanghai's specialized port for luxury cruise ships, which opened in October last year, and more than 150 will arrive in 2013, according to figures from the city's entry-exit inspection and quarantine bureau.
It is apparent that the number of cruise ships in China is rising, and they are becoming more luxurious, tourism industry analysts say. Global players in the cruise line sector are focusing on the country.
"The Chinese cities, especially Shanghai, can never be overlooked. Top groups in the trade all have high hopes for the potential of the market," said Cheng Juehao, deputy director of the research institute of cruise economy under the Shanghai International Shipping Institute.
The number of cruise ships received at ports on the Chinese mainland saw an increase from 223 in 2010 to 262 in 2011, according to statistics from the China Cruise and Yacht Industry Association.
Cruise liners with a high passenger capacity and shipping tonnage will increasingly select Chinese harbors to be their homeports this year now that the world's four leading cruise companies have established China-based routes.
"A cruise market in the country has taken shape due to the emergence of groups with considerably high incomes and a mature concept of cruise holidays in coastal areas," said Zheng Weihang, executive vice-president of CCYIA.
China is at the primary stage of its cruise economy. In this phase, it is building homeports to provide comprehensive services, including berthing, replenishment and maintenance for large cruise liners, said experts.
Several cities, including Shanghai, Tianjin, Xiamen and Qingdao, have been equipped with international homeports to attract major cruise liners to set up shop there for the long term.
Tianjin, a center for cruise travel in North China, will receive nearly 40 luxury cruise liners this year and will establish new routes to Thailand and Singapore in addition to the existing ones to Japan and Korea.
Baoshan International Cruiser Homeport, another port in Shanghai, will be completed in 2015, and more than 200 voyages will be received annually after that time, according to official information.
"It will be a splendid platform for the hundreds of thousands of visitors arriving in China as well as for Chinese to go abroad," said Wang Hong, head of Shanghai's Baoshan district, during an interview with eastday.com.
"We will build an industrial chain, including logistics, purchasing and ticket business, to promote the development of modern services that integrate the cruise economy," she said.
When the cruise economy is more mature, it is important for the country to have its own cruise companies, which are registered and operated on the mainland, experts say.
"Cruise liners have brought new concepts and patterns of consumption to China, but they won't produce obvious benefits if we are only involved in selling tickets and ship supplies," Cheng said.
Chinese enterprises and government agencies started to consider establishing cruise companies two years ago, he said, but they are cautious because of the huge investments required.
The country is expected to have its own cruise companies in three to five years, Cheng estimated. "The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology is encouraging the research and development of cruise ship building technologies."