Cruise boss decries gambling links
Cruising must shed its association with gambling for the burgeoning cruise-ship market to grow in Hong Kong and the region, according to a leading operator.
'Unfortunately for Asia, today cruising is still associated with gambling,' said Pier Luigi Foschi, chairman and chief executive of Costa Crociere. 'Cruises to nowhere are equal to gambling. That is the unfortunate association.'
Gambling on board is allowed once a ship reaches international waters, but is generally perceived in Asia as the main activity for cruise passengers. Unlike the more established North American and European cruise markets, Asia offered few opportunities to gamble on land, Foschi said. Over the years, this has seen more and more punters turn to cruises that just venture out to sea for gambling activities.
A South China Morning Post investigation in June found that the Neptune, a casino cruise ship operated by the Hong Kong-listed Neptune Group, anchored in mainland waters near Dangan Island, south of Hong Kong, when the casino on board opened. All gambling in mainland territory is illegal.
Costa does much of its business by selling cruises and shore excursions, while on-board casinos account for only about two per cent to three per cent of its turnover. Changing this association of cruising with gambling was the challenge to growing the cruise market here, Foschi said. 'One way is to make available a cruise holiday which is not associated with the past, which is gambling. The other way is to penetrate the tourist market, which is very small anyway. So that is the challenge.'
To help the market in Hong Kong and Asia, the Italian cruise line will swap its 28,400-tonne 800-passenger Costa Allegra, which has operated from Hong Kong since 2006, for the larger 53,000-tonne Costa Romantica in April. Costa Romantica will join its sister ship, Costa Classica, which arrived here seven months ago. Costa Allegra will be deployed in Europe.
The presence of the two ships here means Costa expects to at least break even in Hong Kong by 2011, six summer seasons after entering the market. This was two seasons longer than usual and 'tens of millions of US dollars' of investment more than expected, Foschi said.
Costa will also open a new training school in Shanghai next year for shipboard hotel personnel to support its fleet-expansion plans. Foschi said a deal was close to completion.