Teijo Niemela reports from Jeju, South Korea
The fifth annual Asia Cruise Forum opened this morning in Jeju – a South Korean island strategically located on cruise itineraries between China and Japan. Jeju has been a great success story with a rapid expansion of cruise ship calls during the last few years, largely thanks to the development of Chinese cruise market.
However, earlier this year the fortunes reversed, as Chinese government banned Chinese tour groups to visit in South Korea. This has hit Jeju especially hard which has received 92% of its cruise business from China. In total, last year the number of cruise passengers visiting in Jeju reached 1.2 million. Just five years ago the number was 60,000.
Kim Young-Choon, Minister of Ocean and Fisheries said on his opening speech that the Ministry wants to diversify the market trying to attract more cruise ships to call South Korea from Japan, Taiwan and Southeast Asian countries. Taiwan itself is now the largest Asian cruise market after China. On the wish list is also to create home-porting business in South Korea, and develop the local source market, which is still on its infancy compared some other Asian countries.
South Korea continues also to invest its infrastructure. The Jeju Cruise Port has just experienced significant upgrades and can accommodate two cruise ships simultaneously. Next year Jeju expects to open the new Seogwipo Cruise Port, which also can accommodate two cruise ships simultaneously – one of them being the size of 220,000 gross tons.
Investments has also been made at other ports-of-call in South Korea, such as Busan and Incheon.
Meanwhile, difficulties to operate shorter itineraries from Chinese base ports has also affected the cruise operators. As they have now to bypass South Korea, some of them have changed their deployments. As an example, Princess Cruises will offer new ex-Taiwan itineraries on the new Majestic Princess next year, while re-deploying the Sapphire Princess to Europe. Dream Cruises’ President Thatcher Brown provided a figure for next year, that the lower berth capacity from China market may go down 18% compared 2017.