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Hong Kong economy

‘Water taxi’ idea floated to boost Hong Kong tourism

Proposal would run boats to touristy areas such as Central and West Kowloon

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 14 October, 2017, 11:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 October, 2017, 11:00am

Crossing the Victoria Harbour may just be a taxi ride away, if a Hong Kong government proposal to boost flagging tourism by reviving “water taxi” services gains approval, almost 50 years after the smaller boats ended their run.

Under the plan, the boats, which will offer passengers more flexibility, would take them to popular areas such as Central, West Kowloon, Kai Tak and Tsim Sha Tsui, according to the latest tourism development plan released by the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau on Friday.

In a written reply to the Post’s queries, the Tourism Commission said it would work with other departments to study the feasibility of launching water taxi services.

Though no clear details have been revealed, the tourism industry applauded the “innovative” idea, claiming it would put Hong Kong on par with major cities such as New York, Venice, Sydney and Bangkok, which offer waterway transport services.

“It is a good idea as Hong Kong is famous for its harbour. Introducing the water taxi [service ] can help build the image of our harbour,” Travel Industry Council executive director Joseph Tung Yao-chung said.

He expected the water taxi routes to be longer than those of the existing ferry services, which currently take passengers across the harbour within about 15 minutes. Having a longer route would allow tourists to fully appreciate the views on both sides of the waters, he said.

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Tourism sector lawmaker Yiu Si-wing also welcomed the idea, as he had been pushing for the government to add more new activities to diversify the city’s tourism offerings.

“It is a very innovative idea. Smaller boats should be able to provide tourists with greater flexibility and better travel experience,” Yiu said.

He expected affluent travellers to be more interested in the proposed “water taxis”, as such tourists are more willing to pay premium prices for more customised services.

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To enhance the service, Yiu also suggested that the government build more supporting facilities such as smaller boat terminals, and design routes carefully to avoid causing interruptions to existing ferry services.

The concept of the “water taxi” is not new, as similar vessels had operated in the city from the 19th century until the 1970s, serving mostly locals.

The water taxi service should be operated like Uber
Paul Zimmerman, Southern district councillor

Back then, residents and sailors in Hong Kong hopped onto a cheap, on-demand motorboat known as “walla-walla” to travel across the Victoria Harbour.

Landing points were concentrated in Hong Kong’s busiest districts including Central, Sheung Wan and Wan Chai on Hong Kong Island, and Tsim Sha Tsui, Yau Ma Tei and Tai Kok Tsui on the Kowloon Peninsula.

Even after the establishment of Star Ferry in 1898 – a company which later dominated the ferry service between Central and Tsim Sha Tsui – many commuters still relied on the on-call motorboat to cross the harbour.

The small vessels completed their run only in the 1970s after the opening of the Hung Hom Cross-Harbour Tunnel, linking Hung Hom and Causeway Bay.

To revive the traditional service in modern Hong Kong, Southern district councillor Paul Zimmerman said an online booking centre – either in the form of a website or mobile application – should be set up to take orders.

“The water taxi service should be operated like Uber,” he said, referring to the ride-hailing giant.