Kai Tak port goes big with ocean liner from Royal Caribbean
Travel operator Royal Caribbean will run pleasure trips out of Hong Kong with a vessel that can carry more than 3,000 passengers
Royal Caribbean International will be the first cruise line to organise round trips from the Kai Tak Cruise Terminal after the new facility launches its soft opening next week.
From autumn, Royal Caribbean will run return trips of its voyager-class ocean liner, Mariner of the Seas, out of Hong Kong - the first cruise operator to announce the use of the city as a home port.
"Hong Kong is one of the most important home ports in Asia," said Dr Liu Zinan, the company's managing director of China. "Asia, including China, is one of the strategic markets for Royal Caribbean."
The Mariner, with a length of 311 metres and gross tonnage of 138,000, can hold more than 3,000 passengers. It is the largest cruise liner to set up home ports in Asia, where it also operates out of Singapore and Shanghai.
The vessel has never visited Hong Kong before because it is too big for Ocean Terminal in Tsim Sha Tsui to handle.
When the Kai Tak terminal building opens next Wednesday, the Mariner will be the first ship to use the immigration counters, during a Singapore-Shanghai voyage in which Hong Kong is a port of call.
Shorter trips out of Hong Kong are lined up starting in autumn. At the end of October, the vessel will embark on a four-night round trip to two Taiwanese cities, Kaohsiung and Taipei.
A three-night return trip to Kaohsiung will take place in November, following which the Mariner will leave Hong Kong for Singapore for the winter season.
Royal Caribbean also deploys Voyager of the Seas, which has the same passenger capacity as the Mariner, in Asia.
Liu said the company, which owned an international fleet of 22 vessels, would continue to increase its presence in the region.
Royal Caribbean Cruises, the parent firm of Royal Caribbean International, is one of three members of Worldwide Cruise Terminals, the consortium that operates the Kai Tak terminal.
Nine cruise ships have made bookings to berth at the new facility within the first year of its opening, though none will stop by between June and August.
Liu said the typhoon season was not to blame. Rather, he said, the consortium needed to persuade cruise liners to adjust their deployments, which were usually planned 18 months ahead.
Making a city a home port is considered to bring bigger economic benefits than transits, as passengers may stay extra nights in the city before or after their standard itineraries. Last year, such passengers spent an average of HK$4,833 a day, twice as much as conventional tourists.
Jeff Bent of Worldwide Flight Services, another Worldwide partner, said the terminal was to open in the third quarter after all the works were completed.