Lack of dock space may stifle tourism, cruise boss says

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 December, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 December, 2006, 12:00am

Lack of docking space for cruise liners could prevent Hong Kong from benefiting fully from an expected boom in cruise travel in Asia, an industry leader says.

Royal Caribbean International president Adam Goldstein said the cruise travel market in Asia would soon surge and catch up with more mature markets in Europe and the Americas.

'The primary goal for the industry in the past was to attract tourists from the Americas and Europe to take a cruise tour to see Asia for the first time,' he said. 'Now, it's reversed - build up the local cruise market in Asia, then bring tourists around the world to see Asia.'

The Miami-based firm operates 20 ships carrying 3 million passengers a year and reaches 170 destinations, making it one of the biggest cruise companies in the world.

The government says Hong Kong's cruise market demand rose by 55 per cent last year.

But Mr Goldstein voiced concerns that although the administration planned to build a two-berth terminal at Kai Tak by 2012, the lack of docking space in the next few years would cost Hong Kong its edge.

Ocean Terminal in Tsim Sha Tsui is the only cruise terminal in the city. Built in 1966, it has nearly reached capacity and cannot handle ships weighing more than 100,000 tonnes.

Royal Caribbean International's largest ship, Freedom of the Seas, launched in April, weighs 160,000 tonnes, making it the biggest cruise liner in the world.

Larger ships will have to dock at the container terminal in Kwai Chung or skip Hong Kong.

'Hong Kong's advantage is a ship's dramatic entrance into Victoria Harbour which all tourists are looking forward to,' said Mr Goldstein. 'But docking at the container terminal is certainly not optimal and Ocean Terminal alone can no longer meet the long-term growth of the industry.'

Shenzhen is considering building a cruise terminal to accommodate the booming market, while Singapore is planning to expand its cruise industry with a S$10 million (HK$50.47 million) fund.

Mr Goldstein said he saw significant potential on the mainland. 'It's a relatively young, new concept in China. If they understand cruise travel is fun and that there are strong touring programmes supporting it, then the Asian market would become a major market of the industry.'

Mr Goldstein's company is returning to Asia next year for the first time since withdrawing after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US.

The first stop will be Singapore, with the first tour from Hong Kong beginning in the 2008 Lunar New Year.

The company will aim to establish itself in Hong Kong by promoting a US$620 five-night package. Mr Goldstein said he expected to attract 14,000 Hong Kong tourists a year into choosing his company's tours, while 20,000 from the mainland are expected to travel on its ships from Shanghai.

He said the biggest advantage of cruise travel was that it was carefree when compared to air travel. 'You only need to unpack your luggage once.'