China is expected to surpass the United States as the largest market for Royal Caribbean cruises in the coming years, according to its chief executive. “Today in the US there are probably 11 million people taking cruises every year, and in China there are about 1.5 million,” said Michael Bayley, head of Royal Caribbean International. “When you think about the different population, the size of the growing middle class, at some point in the future, we think there will be as many Chinese taking cruises, and we would like to be the major one.” China is already the second largest market for Royal Caribbean, and in the latest effort to tap into the fast-growing market mainland market, the cruise liner christened its newest ship, Ovation of the Seas, in northern China’s port city of Tianjin. Fan Bingbing, one of the most popular Chinese actresses, was named “godmother” of the newest and third vessel in the shipping lines Quantum class fleet. Aboard the Ovation of the Seas The 168,666-tonne ship is 348 metres long and can carry up to 4,900 passengers and 1,500 crew. The three ships in its Oasis class are even bigger. The Ovation of the Seas will offer four to eight-day cruises to South Korea and Japan from Tianjin. Tickets cost from 700 yuan to 1,300 yuan (HK$820 to HK$1,520) per night. Hong Kong to be home port to US$1 billion cruise ship, city’s largest yet, tailor-made for Chinese market China is expected to deliver 4.5 million passengers by 2020, according to the cruise economy research institute of the Shanghai International Shipping Institute. This is much lower than the booming outbound tourism sector, which last year saw a record 120 million people travel abroad, spending US$215 billion. Bayley said the 6.5 per cent growth in gross domestic product – the year’s official target and the slowest in two decades – was still positive compared with other most other economies. “We all recognise a transition in the Chinese economy,” Bayley said. “The rate of growth is slowing, but the growth rate is great. We now see the beginning of transition from thinking about sightseeing to seeking experience for the families that creates memories in the Chinese market.” Hong Kong set to benefit as global cruise lines eye mainland Chinese market The US$1 billion Ovation of the Seas also comes with Chinese elements, including a pair of giant panda sculptures and works by Chinese artists. Under an agreement with the Palace Museum, a collection of signature pieces would be on display on the ship, while paintings and artworks created by artists from the museum would be available for auction on board.