Overview >> Luxury cruise travel, formerly a privilege of the wealthy, is becoming available to the masses. In North America and Europe, where affordable cruise tours and packages are available, cruising is a popular pastime for average families to. The cruise population in Japan has grown in recent years as operators offered cruise tours at affordable prices on foreign ships departing from/ending in Japan, and large travel agencies are stepping up their sales offerings in regard to cruises.
A Growing Sense of Affordability with an Influx of Foreign Ships >> Luxury cruise travel is very popular among vacationers in the U.S. and European countries. Cruise tours have been offered in Japan, of course, but acceptance was limited because many considered cruise travel to be expensive.
Recently, however, a surge in the popularity of cruise travel has been seen in Japan as operators have offered relatively affordable tours on foreign ships departing from/ending in Japan, where some low-priced packages cost approximately 10,000 yen per night including everything: accommodations, meals, entertainment and transport.
According to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, the cruise population in Japan (number of Japanese cruise passengers) grew nearly 20% over 2011 to reach a total of 217,000 in 2012 (up 16.2% from the previous year), including 120,000 overseas cruise passengers and 96,000 domestic ones. The cruise population topped 200,000 in 2012 for the first time in nearly 10 years because operators have offered a variety of unique cruise packages. These include the Annular Eclipse cruise tour, the cruise tour to the Ogasawara Islands (recently designated as a World Heritage site), foreign cruise packages departing from/ending in Japan operated/introduced by large cruise operators, and others.
Ninety Percent of Cruise Passengers Are Repeaters >> According to Mr. Matsuura, the representative director of the Yutaka Club (Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo), Japan’s first travel agency specialized in cruise tours, “Previously, many of our customers were business owners, lawyers, doctors and other affluent people. Now, the percentage of regular senior citizens (going on cruise tours) has grown.” Although the average unit price of approximately 200,000 yen isn’t cheap, there are many things to do during the cruising time, and three meals are provided each day. Another factor in the popularity of cruise trave is a in the popularity of cruise travel is a sense of security that there are doctors and nurses aboard the ship looking after the well-being of the passengers. Photo of Ogasawara Islands:: Mitsui O.S.K. Passenger Line, Ltd.
Additionally, cruise liners not only serve as hotels but also offer many activities and various types of facilities such as restaurants, theaters, pools and libraries. Each passenger can freely decide how to spend his or her time on the ship, such as by reading at the poolside, joining cultural programs and taking dance lessons. “People make friends with new people after spending time together over meals or tea time, and during optional tours,” says Mr. Matsuura.
Reportedly, 90% of cruise passengers are repeaters who are hooked on the delicious food and interesting conversations with different people, which makes a trip all the more memorable.
Not only couples and friends but also singles are now going on cruises. One appealing point of cruise travel is that passengers make friends on the ship and then enjoy spending time together. Popular destinations include the U.S., Europe and, most recently, Asian routes starting/ending in Yokohama. Short-distance cruises, visiting three major festivals in the Tohoku region, firework shows and the Ogasawara Islands, etc., are also popular. Photo of the cruise ship NIPPON MARU on Ogasawara shore:: Mitsui O.S.K. Passenger Line, Ltd.
Guest rooms vary in price, from interior cabins to those with ocean views and others with balconies. Cruise passengers can select rooms according to their travel preferences. As some say, “I don’t mind a cheap room because there are various activities and shows, so I hardly spend time in the room.” Others say they “booked a suite to spend a relaxing time in the room and on the balcony.” According to Mr. Matsuura, expensive rooms go first, as booked mostly by seniors, but low-priced interior cabins are also popular. As for the number of travel days, his recommendation is to stay at least two nights by taking the weather/climatic into account.
As baby boomers reach retirement age, growing numbers of them have enjoyed traveling at sea as part of their second chapter in life, and the cruise market in Japan is likely to expand. Large travel agencies like JTB and HIS are stepping up their offerings for cruise travel, while the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport is promoting and actively inviting foreign passenger ships to Japan. It has set up a “one-stop service desk for the promotion of cruise travel,” which works as a single point of contact for foreign cruise ships calling at ports in Japan. The day is near when Japan will have an established market for cruise-travel tours highlighted by Japanese-style hospitality (in terms of dedication to customer satisfaction).Photo of Ogasawara Islands:: Mitsui O.S.K. Passenger Line, Ltd.