Ctrip may be the newest entrant into China’s cruise market, but plans have long been in the works for the country’s largest online travel platform.

Announced as SkySea in a joint venture with Royal Caribbean Cruises last November, the company will start service this May with the Celebrity Century.

Ctrip had set its eye on the cruise market in 2013 when it first established SkySea Holdings with Stone Capital. Stone is a Shanghai-based private equity firm that invests for China’s wealthiest families and entrepreneurs.

his was kept relatively quiet until a partnership with Royal Caribbean was announced. As it stands, both Ctrip and Royal each have a 35 percent stake in the new venture, with Stone Capital holding the remaining 30 percent.

Min Fan, vice chairman, president and cofounder of Ctrip, was announced as the new company’s chairman and CEO. Management staff will come from both Ctrip and Royal Caribbean.

“Through the strategic partnership with Royal Caribbean, we will tailor-make the best cruise experience suitable for Chinese tourists,” said Fan. “Ctrip will provide the marketing network, customer base, technical expertise and high level of service, while Royal Caribbean will handle operations and crew management.”

Fan told Cruise Industry News he expects half of the passengers to be from China in the future.

Looking at the overall tourism industry, last year the number of Chinese nationals traveling abroad reached 90 million and this number will exceed 400 million within the next five years, according to various studies. Statistics show that Asia’s cruise penetration rate at .05 percent is much lower than in the U.S. and Europe.

The Century will be refurbished in Singapore prior to sailing for SkySea.

Fan said that the changes include revamping the restaurants to make the meals more palatable to Chinese tourists, adding a trampoline at sea, mini-golf and other amenities.

SkySea’s target audience is the middle- to high-level market focusing on the 30 to 60 year-old age group of high-end consumers and families. Hence SkySea will roll out cruise products for multi-generational travel.   
   
Fan made it no secret he plans to add a ship a year, initially acquiring ships from other companies but eventually building his own.

Excerpt from Cruise Industry News Quarterly Magazine: Spring 2015