Will Yangtze River Disaster Dampen Chinese Cruise Growth?
PHOTO: Dwain Wall shares his thoughts on the Yangtze River tragedy from his Beijing office. (Courtesy of Dwain Wall)
Chinese authorities have confirmed that 442 people died in the tragic Eastern Star sinking on the Yangtze River, which ranks as the country’s worst shipping accident ever.
Such disasters can dampen travel for a time, but could this one curtail demand for cruising, even as U.S. lines race to establish and grow a Chinese cruise market?
We put the question to Dwain Wall, the former CruiseOne/Cruises Inc. general manager who now lives in Beijing as co-president of Bestours Software, the parent company of a new Chinese cruise website called WorldCruise.cn.
“Whenever an event of this magnitude occurs there will no doubt be some travelers who will have concerns about safety and cruising,” Wall said in an email. “Thus far, because this vessel is not in the same category as an ocean liner, the consumer doesn’t seem to be linking the two. When disasters such as this occur in China, the government is quick to react to control the narrative and has a tight control of the information about the disaster. The news has focused on the heroism of rescuers, including navy divers, who pulled two people to safety. A day after the disaster, state television began running highlight reels of rescued victims and valiant divers.”
Here in the U.S., companies that sell Yangtze River cruises to Americans were quick to point out the differences between their vessels and the Eastern Star. Ships operated by Victoria Cruises and Century Cruises meet much higher, international safety standards.
Wall said Chinese TV broadcasts focused on the conditions on the river at the time of the sinking.
“The television news has been mostly focused on the cause of the incident, which points to heavy thunderstorms and the possibility of a tornado actually hitting the ship,” Wall wrote. “The working theory is that the captain made an abrupt turn of the ship to try and steer the ship out of the way of the oncoming tornado, but the tornado hit the small vessel broadside as it was making the turn, which may explain why it capsized so quickly.”
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