China Plans First Domestic Luxury Cruise Line with Viking

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China Merchants Shekou and Viking Cruises announced the formation of a new joint venture to launch a cruise line focused on mid-sized luxury cruise products. While China has been working to build its domestic cruise industry, this will be China’s first entry into the high-end luxury cruise market.

The new company plans to launch in 2021 offering a high-end domestic sea cruise with destination experiences as its core product. Under the agreement, the 745-foot Viking Sun, built by Fincantieri and introduced in 2017 as the fourth of Viking’s ocean cruise ships, will be transferred to the joint venture. The ship’s registry will also be transferred to China to meet the regulations requiring a domestic registry for coastal cruising. The company said it will upgrade and transform the ship including its catering and entertainment to “organically integrate simple Nordic style with Chinese culture, to provide a high-end cruise travel experience and exclusive services.” They plan to provide in-depth cultural tours for travelers who have a strong interest in nature, history, folk customs, and food culture.

According to the announcement of the new agreement, the new joint venture will combine China Merchants Group’s comprehensive strength and Viking Cruises’ rich experience in high-end cruise operations to build the world’s first five-star cruise operation sailing under the Chinese flag. 

Before the pandemic, Chinese travelers had been one of the fastest-growing segments of the luxury travel industry. Viking has been cultivating the market launching a dedicated Chinese product in 2016. The company introduced programs in Europe with river cruises on vessels dedicated to the Chinese traveler. Also, several Chinese institutions have been investors helping to fund the rapid growth of Viking Cruises.

Known as one of the pioneers that developed the European river cruise industry, Viking in 2015 launched its first ocean cruise ship. Since then they have built a total of six ocean cruise ships and have another dozen on order. In November 2020, Viking announced additional investments from its existing minority shareholders, TPG Capital and Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPP Investments), that will result in approximately $500 million of net proceeds being available to support Viking Cruises in its continued development.

China has made several attempts to build its domestic cruise industry. Recently, they acquired two older cruise ships from P&O Cruises, introducing the first in 2019 and planning the introduction of the second large Chinese flagged cruise ship in 2021. In addition, they are building a new venture cruise line with Carnival Corporation. The Carnival JV also acquired two older ships from Costa Cruises, which it is anticipated will begin sailing in China in 2021 and they are also building two large cruise ships in China, the first modern cruise ships to be built domestically.

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