Hotel plan floated to put idle casino ships to use

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 August, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 August, 2003, 12:00am

Gambling vessels are seen as a way of coping with an expected flood of mainland visitors

Empty casino ships could operate as floating hotels in a short-term solution to accommodating the expected flood of mainland visitors during National Day holidays, under a proposal put before the Hong Kong Tourism Board yesterday.

The suggestion follows a storm of controversy over Hong Kong's capacity to offer affordable rooms to mainland visitors amid soaring hotel occupancy figures. The government has announced a plan to convert empty public housing flats into cheap hostels, with tour agents complaining that Hong Kong's three-star hotels have been pushing prices beyond the budget of many mainland tourists.

'These [cruise ship] vessels are designed to be floating cities for thousands of people,' said Bob McKercher, associate head of the Department of Hotel and Tourism Management at Polytechnic University.

'It would be a quick-fix solution. They are fully kitted out for the tourist trade. It makes sense.'

Dr McKercher said one of the few obstacles to the plan would be to find available berths in one of the world's busiest ports.

'But as a short-term option it might work - especially if they are able to provide water taxis and shuttle services.'

Authorities are predicting a rush of visitors from the mainland following the relaxation of restrictions on travel to Hong Kong from September 1.

Travel Industry Council executive director Joseph Tung Yao-chung said: 'We are talking about huge numbers of people coming to Hong Kong, and most of the group tours have confirmed reservations.'

But he was unsure about the option of using casino ships as floating hotels.

'It depends on whether the mainlanders would enjoy it, some may not want to stay on a boat.

'Maybe some of the tour operators could look at including the option as part of an alternative accommodation package.'

He said hotel room rates had soared in comparison with the rock-bottom packages on offer during the Sars outbreak.

Master mariner Jack Haworth, who put forward the proposal yesterday, said he was outraged by the idea of converting public housing into low-budget hostels.

'There are so many under-utilised casino ships floating in the harbour and it occurred to me that they offered the ideal solution.'