By ZHU WENQIAN in Beijing and DENG RUI in Chongqing | China Daily | Updated: 2022-09-12 10:44
River cruises on the Yangtze have been tepid this year, hampered by high temperatures in Chongqing and local COVID-19 cases in Sichuan province.
Total capacity fell about 30 percent year-on-year, industry experts said.
The Yangtze River, China’s longest river and the third longest in the world, is particularly famous for the natural scenery of the Three Gorges (Qutang Gorge, Wuxia Gorge and Xiling Gorge). They form a series of attractions between Chongqing and Yichang in Hubei Province on the middle reaches of the river.
Despite the slow start to the season, many cruises still take place in this region. But things are not going well for the overall business.
“Cruise operations in the Three Gorges segment are relatively unstable due to the impact of the pandemic. Two new ships have entered the Yangtze waterways this year. Now the two ships have suspended their voyages due to the pandemic,” said Sun Wei, director of cruise tourism services at Tuniu Corp, a Nanjing-based online travel agency.
“As the pandemic is better under control and with the promotion of new cruise ships, the market is expected to see a rebound in the period between April and July next year,” Sun said.
In 2006, the Three Gorges Dam project was completed, and more and more Chinese and foreign travelers began to visit the region. Some companies began building luxury cruise ships to operate on the Yangtze River to ocean cruise ship standards.
Compared to the past, river cruise ship operators have renewed their equipment and services, introducing better entertainment and services comparable to cruising around the world to meet the strong demand of increasingly sophisticated domestic travelers.
According to a new guideline released in August by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and four other departments, the government will continue to support the growth of first-rate domestic waterway tourism routes, particularly in the Yangtze River and Xijiang River areas.
“There is a big difference between ocean cruises and river cruises. We expect more promotions for Yangtze River cruises as many people from northern China are unfamiliar with such trips,” said Cai Yi, operations director at Chongqing Changjiang Shipping Co, a major Yangtze River cruise operator.
The company said its ships resumed operations in June after an 11-month suspension and now their operations have halted again as passenger flows have been low. On board each ship, which can accommodate up to 600 guests, there are only 50 to 80 people, which cannot cover the fixed costs.
“The situation of various cruise companies in Chongqing is similar. Based on the current trend of the pandemic in the region, the situation is not very optimistic. We will prepare for the upcoming National Day holiday break (first week of October). , but if the situation improves, we cannot rule out that travel will resume in advance,” Cai said.
“Some short-haul Yangtze River cruise lines’ sailing routes are more flexible and lower in cost, and their operations have continued.”
Before the pandemic, homogeneous competition among Yangtze River cruises was fierce. Now companies are trying to expand their business with differentiated routes. For example, Century Cruises launched trips to the Three Gorges hinterland.
“We plan to introduce some outstanding services that are similar to cleaning services and better integrate ground services with cruises,” Cai said.
Currently, Chongqing Changjiang Shipping has three cruise ships operating all routes departing from Chaotianmen Port in Chongqing to Maoping Port in Yichang or vice versa.
With the launch of a new high-speed rail link between Zhengzhou in Henan Province and Chongqing, the company is considering new cruise routes between Wanzhou District in Chongqing and Yichang and between Wanzhou and Zigui in Hubei Province, it said.
Also, the company said it has preliminary plans to build new cruise ships, including large ships that can carry 600 passengers and smaller ships that can carry 300 people. The plans are still awaiting the necessary approvals from the company’s board of directors and regulators, and must take into account a number of factors such as commodity prices.