The cruise industry in China is coming back to life as routes to the Xisha Islands in the South China Sea will resume in December on a trial basis, following an 11-month suspension due to the COVID-19 epidemic, but the process should go cautiously and slowly, experts said.
Two cruise ships, the Nanhai Dream and the Changle Gongzhu, are scheduled to resume operations on December 9 and 10, according to the Hainan provincial department of transportation.
According to Hainan Cruises, the company that owns the Nanhai Dream, a four-day tour will depart from Sanya, South China's Hainan Province and sail to the Xisha Islands at prices ranging from 4,880 yuan ($741) per person for a six-person inner cabin to 26,800 yuan per person for a luxurious sea-view suite.
To comply with epidemic prevention measures, the liners may carry no more than 50 percent of their passenger capacity in the initial stage of resumption, which can be lifted to no more than 70 percent after two weeks of operation if epidemic prevention and control measures prove effective.
The trial resumption shows that the cruise industry is gradually recovering from the pandemic, and more domestic and international cruise operators are expected to apply to resume sailings, experts said.
The resumption of Xisha tours is more like a preliminary market test. If there are no problems, other routes are expected to be restored in the near future, Xu Xiaolei, marketing manager at China's CYTS Tours Holding Co told the Global Times on Monday.
"Based on the market feedback we have received so far, the inquiries and bookings for the Xisha cruises products from our platform have exceeded expectations. It shows that Chinese consumers are getting their confidence back in domestic cruise ships following the successful containment of the virus in China," Xu said.
International cruise companies approached by the Global Times also look forward to the resumption of cruise routes in China.
"We have been actively in touch with the Chinese government and relevant departments, striving to resume routes as soon as possible under the premise of ensuring safety and health," said Costa Cruises in a statement sent to the Global Times on Monday, noting that company resumed operations in Europe in September.
However, experts said that the industry needs to move slowly and carefully. Full services probably won't resume until next year, depending on the development process of COVID-19 vaccines.
"Conditions aren't right to resume cruise tours nationwide due to the nature of these tours. With so many tourists, usually 7,000 to 4,000 based on the size of the vessel, living and dining in common spaces for several days, there is still a risk of infection - even at half capacity," Wang Jianmin, a research fellow at the Tourism Research Center of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Monday.