With new agreements, Carnival making bigger push in China

The Costa Atlantica and Costa Victoria ships are shown in the port of Shanghai in this file photo.
The Costa Atlantica and Costa Victoria ships are shown in the port of Shanghai in this file photo.

Furthering its push into China, Carnival Corp. late Monday announced plans to pursue joint ventures that could see the cruise giant owning ships and developing ports and infrastructure with a Chinese development company.

Doral-based Carnival, which expects to carry 500,000 cruise passengers in China this year, was scheduled to hold an event Tuesday morning in Shenzhen to formally sign a memorandum of understanding with China Merchants Group.

The companies will explore a potential partnership to form a Chinese cruise line for the domestic market, using new ships designed and built in China. The joint venture might also acquire existing vessels.

In the other venture, Carnival would partner with China Merchants Group to develop ports and destinations in China and Northern Asia. CMG is already developing Prince Bay Cruise Terminal in Shenzhen.

In a statement, Carnival chief operations officer Alan Buckelew called the agreement “a great opportunity to take the next step in the future of Chinese cruising, while addressing some key needs for both the cruise industry and its passengers in China.”

“With CMG’s amazing track record, reach and influence in the market, we are working with a strategic partner that can help us explore immediate ways to impact cruise growth in China, including the possibility of a new Chinese cruise brand and new destinations,” said Buckelew, who moved to Shanghai from Doral late last year.

In October, Carnival announced a separate memorandum of understanding to look into a partnership to build vessels with the China State Shipbuilding Corp. That potential joint venture could also include Italian shipyard Fincantieri, which has a long history of building ships for Carnival.

This year, Carnival will have four ships based in China: Costa Serena, Costa Atlantica and Costa Victoria from the Costa Cruises brand and Princess Cruises’ Sapphire Princess.

Carnival isn’t alone in its interest in China. Royal Caribbean Cruises last year announced a joint venture with Chinese travel company Ctrip and other partners to form a product for the local market called SkySea Cruises. Richard Fain, chairman and CEO of the Miami-based cruise ship company, has described the endeavor as “a national cruise line for China.”

Voyages are expected to start in the middle of this year with the former Celebrity Century, which Royal Caribbean sold to Ctrip last year.