Cruise operators face uncertainty

PUBLISHED : Monday, 27 October, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 27 October, 2008, 12:00am

The impact of the global financial crisis on people's appetite for cruise holidays is uncertain as recession concerns grow.

'This turmoil in the last four to six weeks is pretty hard to gauge in terms of what the impact is going to be,' Dean Brown, executive vice-president of Princess Cruises, said. 'I think a lot of us are uncertain about what's going to happen with the economy, and that has a lot to do with what's happening in the markets.'

Ships from Princess Cruises, which is part of Carnival Cruise Lines, are due to visit Hong Kong five times this year, 11 times next year and nine times in the first half of 2010.

The city is trying to develop its potential as a cruise hub and plans to have new terminal facilities in place at Kai Tak by 2014 or 2015.

But Mr Brown said the government should consider providing basic facilities at Kai Tak to service transiting cruise passengers a few years before the new terminal was ready, so larger ships could start docking downtown earlier.

He met Tourism Commissioner Au King-chi and Tourism Board executive director Anthony Lau Chun-hon in Beijing last week.

Cruise industry representatives were in Beijing for the 2008 China Cruise Industry Development Summit and in Shanghai for the Seatrade All Asia Cruise Convention, where major cruise operators said they would form an Asia Cruise Association to promote the industry.

'We're encouraging them to consider a development plan where the actual pier, apron and coach parking facilities get completed in the first part of the phase - perhaps a year or two before they have the full terminal developed,' Mr Brown said.

'It's just a 75-metre platform with space adjacent that will accommodate 50 to 70 coaches. With those very simple initial facilities, you can handle the basics for a large ship.'

Large ships starting or ending cruises in Hong Kong will still have to wait until proper terminal facilities are built at Kai Tak to handle passengers and baggage.

Mr Brown said the government was very open to the suggestion. The government's plans for Kai Tai include building the first berth by mid-2013 and terminal facilities one or two years later.

Large cruise ships, like the 116,000-tonne Diamond Princess that visited Hong Kong two weeks ago, are too big to dock at Ocean Terminal in Tsim Sha Tsui and need to make alternative arrangements.