GENOA - How do you bring the Dolce Vita Italian lifestyle to the Chinese without actually landing in China?  Well, the Costa Cruises company will be offering all the top Made-in-Italy food, fashion and style with a new around-the-world “Italian” cruise geared to a Chinese public. 

The Italian cruise line opened its doors to the Asian market in 2006 with the launch of the Costa Allegra ship. This year, they’re adding two more ships -- the Costa Victoria and the Costa Atlantica, with departures from Shanghai and Singapore. They’re also placing a huge bet by featuring the first around-the-world cruise intended for Chinese only. 

“When we began in 2006, we offered short cruises because the Chinese didn’t have a lot of time for vacations. Now, seven years later, the offer of an around-the-world cruise for 83 days speaks volumes for the changes that have happened -- both economically and culturally,” says Gianni Onorato, Director General of the Costa Cruises group. 

The Costa Atlantica - Photo: Costa Cruises Asia Pacific

One of the main operators in the Carnival group, the company has executive control over Carnival’s activities in Europe. The group garnered international attention in January 2012 when the Costa Concordia ship ran aground off the Italian coast, killing 32 people.  

Asia has become the travel company's fastest growing market, pushed by the extra cash -- and time -- that a booming Chinese public has acquired. “I believe that the key has been to make them understand that cruise ships aren’t just casinos. Even though there are these kinds of attractions on board, they’re certainly not the main feature," says Onorato. "It’s true that the Chinese don’t love the sun; tanning for them is still synonymous with manual labor out in the open, but they really love the sea and they’re true romantics."

Taking the time

The worldwide cruise on the Costa Atlantica will depart from Shanghai next March with more than 2000 places. “Evidently,” continues Onorato, “in China there’s a new target group for cruises, the upper-middle class, who can spend 99.999 RMB (12,370 euros) each on the ticket. What’s more is that they’re able to take 83 days of vacation."

It’s not easy to penetrate this market. A recent report said that of 100 companies that tried, 10% succeeded, 40% were bought out by Chinese and the other 50% returned home empty handed. Costa is working with a local partner, Shanghai Airlines Tours, which is owned by China Eastern Airlines. "On board the ships, we will market Italy heavily, offering regional delicacies, fashion shows, performances and exhibitions,” Onorato explains. “We’re trying to make them feel at home on board: 50% of the staff will be Chinese, we have two schools in China to train them, and we’ll also offer local cuisine and entertainment like karaoke...”

The Costa Victoria - Photo: Costa Cruises Asia Pacific

There’s still some aspects to resolve, like visas - which should be collective for all guests. 

But, it is notable that China is the place to launch the next around-the-world itinerary. “We stopped in the ‘90s, maybe too quickly, and then took up again a few years later. The two last cruises were sold out.”