Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings has raised the stakes for sourcing Chinese cruise passengers by sealing a deal with Alibaba Group, the world’s largest online and mobile commerce company.

The two companies will look to further increase the awareness in China of the unique offerings of cruise holidays. 

They plan to make cruising the preferred holiday choice among Chinese travellers in what is forecast to become the cruise industry’s second-largest source market.

Chinese people live, work and play on Alibaba, buying local and overseas products, and accessing its entertainment and lifestyle services such as travel, food delivery and social networking.

The companies will also collaborate to provide Alibaba customers with new and unique online-to-offline experiences at sea across Norwegian’s China-based and global fleet.

The move comes ahead of the naming of new 3,850-passenger ship Norwegian Joy – the line’s first dedicated to the Chinese cruise sector – in its home port of Shanghai on June 27.

Norwegian Joy will be the 25th ship in Norwegian’s fleet across its three brands – Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises.

Norwegian is seeking to play catch up to rivals Carnival Corporation and Royal Caribbean Cruises which both have ships deployd to source Chinese passengers. Carnival has also embarked on a joint venture to eventually build ships in China. 

Alibaba Group president Michael Evans said: “We are pleased to partner with Norwegian Cruise Line on this tremendous initiative.

“Our expanded relationship is another example of how Alibaba is helping international brands to reach Chinese consumers through our robust data, marketing and technology.  

“We look forward to further strengthening our collaboration with Norwegian in the future.”

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings president and chief executive Frank Del Rio said: “Since launching our first cruise over 50 years ago, Norwegian has grown to become one of the most storied names in leisure travel with groundbreaking innovations that have shaped the modern cruise industry.

“Our partnership with Alibaba will combine Norwegian’s history of innovation in the cruise industry and our entry into the Chinese cruise market with Norwegian Joy with Alibaba’s extensive knowledge of China’s consumer base and its unique ecosystem which continually reaches consumers in new and ever-expanding ways.”

The company’s president in China, David Herrera, added: “The partnership with Alibaba complements our strong, existing relationships with our loyal travel agents to provide unmatched insight into what Chinese travellers look for in a vacation experience. 

“The combination of Norwegian’s expertise in delivering memorable vacation experiences, Alibaba’s insights into Chinese consumer behaviour and our travel agents’ knowledge of the preferences of Chinese travellers will create a cruise product unequalled in China.”