China is turning the busy eastern seaport of Qingdao into the country's third cruise terminal in order to tap the Chinese middle class' growing appetite for luxurious ocean travel.
Qingdao has already started working on a 1-billion-yuan ($153,846 million) project to build a cruise liner port and relevant facilities.
Cruise companies from around the world are looking to capitalize on Qingdao's seaside location as well. In 2009, an Italian cruise liner company set up an office in Qingdao. Its American and Singaporean counterparts have docked their ships in Qingdao before, and they hope to open an office in the area as well.
Last week, the Italian cruise ship Costa Classica docked at Qingdao to pick up new passengers, signaling the inauguration of Qingdao as an official cruise terminal.
"We just visited two resorts in Qingdao this morning. It is amazing to travel on a cruise ship," said a tourist surnamed Li.
Li and his wife boarded the Costa Classica in Shanghai, traveling to Seoul before returning to Qingdao. The couple paid about 8,000 yuan for the trip. Li said the cruise experience was "well worth the money."
Li is part of a growing middle class that is eager to splash out on new and interesting experiences. The May edition of the Hurun Rich List, a list of China's most wealthy individuals, said that 960,000 people in the country have personal fortunes exceeding 10 million yuan each.
The 220-meter-long Costa Classica, operated by cruise company Costa Cruises, is touted as a "moving Italian castle." The cruise ship is equipped with 700 hotel rooms, a gym, a library and several nightclubs and bars.
Two Costa Cruises liners are currently operating in China, offering short trips of 4 to 6 days and longer trips of 14 to 16 days.
Local officials say they are enthusiastic that the cruise industry will expand tourism in the region.
Cruise ship tourists will be able to stay in the city longer than usual, boosting opportunities for tourism-oriented businesses, said Li Qiang, an executive from a local tour agency.
In the coming two months, 13 cruise liners are scheduled to dock at Qingdao, making it a formal cruise terminal for Costa Cruises' northeast Asia routes and linking the city with Shanghai and the Republic of Korea (ROK)'s cities of Seoul and Jeju.
Qingdao is the third cruise terminal in China, after Shanghai and Tianjin. Many other cities, including the coastal cities of Xiamen and Sanya, are preparing to join their ranks.
According to a June report issued by the World Luxury Association (WLA), China is expected to replace Japan as the world's top consumer of luxury goods by 2012.
Wang Weiming, an executive from the Asia-Pacific Competitive Power Research Institute (APPCC), said that "luxury" pastimes like polo and yachting are becoming increasingly popular with rich Chinese.
In 2010, about 400,000 Chinese took cruises, up more than 20 percent from a year earlier. Meanwhile, about 230,000 foreign tourists took cruises to visit China last year, industry statistics show.
Lou Guanlian, vice director of the Qingdao Tourism Bureau, said he expects China and the Asia-Pacific region at large to become a driving force for the global cruise industry.


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