Growing dissatisfaction with long-haul flying and the hassle of airport security is fuelling a boom in the cruise market, according to one of the companies taking part in the travel expo.
Speaking ahead of the four-day expo opening today, Melvyn Yap, Asia regional director with Silverseas Cruises, said travellers had become disillusioned with flying and were looking at cruises for variety and sophistication.
'Because of all the security issues, people are quite tired of travelling by plane. They want to go on a cruise and visit four or five countries without having the hassle of passing through customs,' Mr Yap said.
The past three years have seen a surge in the numbers of people taking cruise holidays, particularly among travellers from the Asia-Pacific region.
Silverseas, which caters for the luxury market, has seen the proportion of its Asia-Pacific-based clientele increasing steadily, up by 3 per cent in 2004 and 12 per cent last year. Even larger growth has been reported in mass-market cruise companies.
'In Asia, the richer are younger and the average age of the cruiser is about 40, which is much younger than in Europe. What you tend to find is the shorter the cruise, the younger the crowd. Working people don't have the time to go on a world cruise,' said Mr Yap.
This younger and more demanding generation has stimulated change in cruises, both in attractions offered on board and the design of the ships.
'The days of bingo and horse racing are gone,' Mr Yap said. 'People are more demanding. It is not just a cruise these days. In the past, passengers wanted big shows, but tastes have changed. The feedback we have from clients is that they don't want big shows. If they want to see a show they will go to Las Vegas or Macau.
'They prefer more chill-out areas, jazz and wine bars where friends can gather. They want privacy. They want to attend lectures and hear about the history and development of a country before they arrive there,' he said.
Mr Yap said Hong Kong was Silverseas' biggest Asian market after Japan, but he foresaw growth coming from mainland China over the next five years.
The cruise sector will be represented at the expo by five top companies: Star Cruises, MSC, Royal Caribbean, Costa Crociere and Silverseas Cruises.