Government and industry players must work together to turn city into an Asian hub for cruise ships

The signs are promising but Hong Kong needs to do more to turn the area around the Kai Tak terminal into a tourist-friendly destination

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 April, 2016, 12:56am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 April, 2016, 12:56am

Whoever has doubts about Hong Kong’s prospect of becoming a cruise hub should take a look at the latest berth schedules. Last week, three world-class cruise ships with 17,000 passengers on board sailed into Victoria Harbour one after the other. The new cruise terminal at Kai Tak is scheduled to have 90 sailings this year. Next year will be even busier, with the figure reaching 167.

This was the first time the Queen Mary 2, Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth had dropped anchor in an Asian port within 24 hours of each other. The convergence is seen as a recognition of the city’s tourism and port facilities. More encouragingly, cruise liners are to step up investment in the regional market. Our sluggish tourism industry stands to benefit if the cruise business expands further.

It has been suggested that the economic benefits brought by cruise ships are not as big as those from other modes of tourism. It is true that cruise-ship passengers seldom have more than a day to explore the city, but the short span is made up for by their relatively higher spending power. Through a packed schedule of sight-seeing, eating and shopping excursions, many industries can earn handsome tourist dollars.

That said, it all depends on whether we can provide tourists with a rewarding experience. Unlike Ocean Terminal in Tsim Sha Tsui, where they can immediately access a wealth of attractions after disembarking, the new terminal at Kai Tak is still lagging in terms of transport, sight-seeing and other support facilities. Outside sailing schedules, the new complex on the defunct former airport runway is little more than an open space in the rundown industrial district. Better arrangements are needed to make the most of the terminal. Fears that the HK$8 billion structure might become a white elephant are being laid to rest as more cruise ships have sailed in and out of the harbour over the past three years. But there is still some way to go before we genuinely become Asia’s cruise hub. Officials should work closer with the industry to turn vision into reality.