China’s first international cruise sets sail after group travel relaxation

(This Aug. 11 story has been corrected to show it is the first international cruise since the relaxation of pandemic restrictions on group travel in August, in the headline and in paragraph 1)

HONG KONG (Reuters) – China’s first international cruise since the relaxation of domestic group travel restrictions prepared to set sail on Friday, heading from Shanghai to Japan in a boost for the country’s beleaguered cruise industry following the pandemic, state media reported.

The Blue Dream Star sailed a day after China opened the way for more international travel by its citizens, lifting pandemic restrictions on group tours for more countries, including key markets such as the United States, Japan, South Korea.

The vessel, operated by Shanghai Blue Dream International Cruise Line and carrying more than 1,000 passengers, will sail to Fukuoka, Kumamoto, Kagoshima and Nagasaki in Japan.

Thursday’s lifting of more travel restrictions by the culture and tourism ministry is seen as a potential boon for international travel industries.

Prior to the pandemic, mainland Chinese tourists spent more than any other country’s tourists when abroad, clocking up a combined $255 billion in 2019 – with group tours estimated to account for roughly 60% of that.

Their absence since the pandemic has led to financial troubles for many tourism-dependent businesses around the globe.

Just how much outbound Chinese tourism will bounce back for the latest group of countries remains to be seen. Expectations that demand would come roaring back after China’s borders were re-opened have to date been largely unfulfilled.

As of July, the number of international flights in and out of China had recovered to only 53% of 2019’s levels.

(Reporting by Farah Master and the Beijing newsroom; Editing by Frances Kerry)