ILTM (International Luxury Travel Market) China—the Chinese super bowl of travel industry events—begins today (October 31) and runs through  November 2, and Shanghai-bound industry professionals are there searching for new ideas to serve the ever-burgeoning Chinese tourist market.

One new and surprising entry to the event is Viking Cruises, the small-ship cruise line that also claims a fleet of river ships that tour European waterways. This year, Viking is dedicating 100 tours specifically to Chinese travelers who want to navigate the Rhine and Danube rivers on ships that will boast Mandarin as the official onboard language. Founded in 1997, Viking has high hopes for the Chinese market, “We believe in the Chinese market,” Viking Chairman Torstein Hagen told the Chicago Tribune, and he said he expects this segment of the market to account for half of its European river cruises in the future.

In a sharp ramp-up of services, Viking Cruises will offer 100 Mandarin-language tours along the Rhine and Danube rivers specifically for Chinese travelers

Jing Travel caught up with Wee-Hoon Tan, Vice President of Brand Marketing for Viking Cruises China, to talk about her expectations for the conference as well as what its river ship experiences can offer Chinese travelers.

First of all: Why the Rhine and Danube rivers for Chinese travelers?

These rivers run through much of Europe and play a significant role in Europe’s history and culture. Sailing through them provides a novel and comfortable way for Chinese travelers to explore both the big cities that tourists know about and the quaint towns in between that locals love. Both rivers are also well-known to the Chinese through art, literature, and movies.

viking river cruise danube

Viking River Cruises make stops in Budapest along the Danube River. Photo by Cristian Bortes via Wikimedia Commons

Besides offering Mandarin on cruises, what other special accommodations does Viking make for Chinese tourists?

Chinese guests miss the taste of home when traveling in Europe, so besides offering Chinese dishes at our buffet during meal times, we also offer a noodle bar that operates from 6 a.m. to midnight every day, serving familiar tastes such as Sichuan-style “dan dan noodles” and Beijing style “zajiang noodles.” We also offer a selection of Chinese tea at our bar and in-room, and we provide amenities like a thermos flask for our guests to take on their excursions so they will always have hot water available (Chinese guests prefer to drink warm rather than cold water).

Are there any shopping-related services?

Our Chinese guests are huge shoppers, so we have a dedicated Shopping Concierge on board to provide shopping tips (both on board and on shore) and help with specific requests like filling out tax refund forms. This [service] is absolutely not the same as the “forced shopping” that has plagued the travel industry, as we only provide our service based on guest preferences or requests and do not receive commissions on sales.

Other than meeting each other on board, how else can guests interact/mix?

We created a dedicated WeChat group for guests during each sailing so they can receive broadcasts of important notifications and share trip comments and photos with each other.

Does Viking have any new insights about the Chinese market that they hope to take advantage of?

We find that in China, there is an underserved segment of elderly Chinese travelers who are affluent and want to experience Europe, but they’re handicapped by language. The current travel options available to them—tiring group tours by bus, or very expensive tailored tours—are not ideal. We want to offer them a “one-price-covers-all” way to travel that offers great value and better suits their needs and the needs of their adult children.

What does Viking see as current travel trends?

There’s a rising trend of lazy travel–even among the post-’90s generation–for Chinese people who want an enriching vacation but without the hassle of pre-trip planning, tiring commutes, and confusing logistics. This is counter to the trend of adventure-driven “flashpacking.”

Finally, what are your hopes for this conference?

We hope to introduce Viking’s concept of “elegant luxe travel” to more travel buyers and planners from China. It’s the idea that “luxury travel” is no longer just about “bling” or grand showings of ostentatiousness, but it’s now also about a relaxing pace, less “touristy” and more in-depth experiences, and warm and attentive service. We don’t see Viking just as a cruise company, but as a travel lifestyle company—that’s our long-term vision.