The Henna departs Sanya.2013 promises several crucial milestones for the Chinese cruise market. Apart from the record number of cruise ships calling on various Chinese ports, the biggest and most important event may have been the maiden voyage of the Henna on Jan. 26, 2013 by newcomer HNA Tourism Cruise and Yacht Management Co., Ltd.

HNA Cruises, established last year, is the first domestic luxury cruise company in China and company executives recently outlined their industry objectives with Cruise Industry News.

HNA Cruises is a wholly owned subsidiary of HNA Tourism, which in turn is owned by HNA Group. HNA Tourism is China’s sixth biggest tourism player.

The group is one of the top 120 companies in China, with revenue around Rmb 100 billion (approx. $16 billion) and a total asset value of Rmb 300 billion (approx. $48 billion).

HNA’s historic beginning can be traced back 26 years, when the Hainan government (then under the purview of Guangdong Province) proposed to Beijing to build an airport and an airline for Hainan Island.

Midway through 2012, HNA purchased the 47,700-ton Pacific Sun from Carnival Australia, renaming her Henna and refitting her at Sembawang in Singapore.

HNA did not say what their investment was in the ship or refurbishment, although Star Cruises is managing the vessel. In addition, the group owns a shipyard in China that builds cargo vessels.

Inauguration festivities In Chinese, Henna is “hai nuo,” meaning a graceful lady from the sea. This name retains its connection with Hainan Island, one of China’s favorite holiday destinations, offering its tropical warmth to mainland Chinese tourists.

For the maiden voyage, 2009 Miss Asia, Xu Ying was appointed godmother, performing the inauguration.

In its first year of operation, the Henna will focus on short cruises. From January to April 2013, the vessel will offer four-day/three-night and three-day/two-night cruises to Halong Bay or Danang, sailing from Sanya.

Then, from May until September, the 1986-built Henna will switch to Tianjin as a homeport, offering itineraries to Incheon and Cheju Island. Further deployment was not announced at press time.

Pricing is set at Rmb 600 to 900 per night (between $95 and $145).

To read more, look for an exclusive behind-the-scenes profile on HNA Cruises, featuring interviews with their top executives in the 2013 Cruise Industry News Spring Quarterly Magazine, out March 12.