Nov 26, 2018 · Business

Teetotalers, high rollers, acupuncture, and red tape

Generally speaking, they’re not big on tchotchkes like souvenir refrigerator magnets, preferring a nice Swiss watch, fine jewelry and upmarket fashions. They’re not big drinkers, but do love the action in casinos. Health supplements are popular retail items for them, and medical spa treatments are of special interest.

Royal Caribbean has learned a lot about these unique guests since entering the China market a decade ago and has been the top player in the region for some time, succeeding while others drop away.

“When Quantum of the Seas made her debut in Shanghai three years ago, it changed the face of cruising in China,” says Michael Bayley, president and CEO of Royal Caribbean International. “Fast forward, and we are revealing just how we’ll transform the cruise vacation market, yet again, with the debut of Spectrum of the Seas.

“The introduction of our highly anticipated Quantum Ultra Class will represent a quantum leap forward in ship design and experiences specifically tailored to Chinese guests.”

Spectrum will be the largest and most expensive ship in Asia when she sails from Shanghai starting in June 2019.

John Rae, Royal Caribbean International’s director of hotel operations, works with all of the line’s Asia-Pacific ships. China, in particular, offers some unique challenges.

Because China is a Communist country, government relations are a key factor in doing business there.

“We deal with the government at every level,” Rea says. “There’s a ton of paperwork, which makes getting on and off the ship difficult. Sales in the Chinese market is also really different because we’re not an outbound travel agency.” An application to change that designation is in process. In the meantime, Royal Caribbean’s sales office in Shanghai works with outside travel agents to fulfill guest demands for cruises to other Asian countries, including shore excursions (mostly for shopping, especially in Japan) and other requirements of the market.

“Chinese people traditionally don’t take time off from work,” he explains. “They’re very industrious,” so they have been drawn to shorter cruises of four to five days.

There is a market for longer cruises, however, and they’re in the works.

Onboard high-end shopping is a big draw, as well as casinos with private VIP rooms for high rollers. While the government disallows the marketing of gambling, the casinos are “widely popular,” Rea says, and tend to provide most onboard revenue. That and such adjustments as charging for entertainment compensate for lost revenue from drink sales and other non-starters for the often family-oriented guests.

International crews include substantial numbers of Mandarin-speaking Chinese, signage is in Mandarin and English, headline entertainment performs in Mandarin, and top quality restaurants and tearooms cater specifically to Chinese tastes.

“We can’t keep up with the demand” for medical spas that focus on such services as acupuncture and Botox treatments, and health supplements are big sellers on board.

Spectrum also includes Royal’s first private enclave for suite guests, new stateroom categories and many features and experiences that have never before been seen at sea.

For many more specifics on the China-ready ship, click here.