Hong Kong is among the last of the major Asian ports to develop a terminal that can handle the world's largest cruise ships, which means planning the itineraries for such liners is not likely until 2011 at the earliest.
The government's planned cruise terminal will be at the former Kai Tak airport site, with the first berth scheduled to be ready by mid-2013. However, terminal facilities may not be completed until 2015. Singapore is on track to complete its International Cruise Terminal next year. Itinerary planning for cruises usually starts about two years in advance.
Adam Goldstein, president and chief executive of Royal Caribbean International, said several factors had to be considered.
'If the new terminal in Hong Kong is ready to take ships in mid-2013, then during the year 2011 into early 2012 will be the decision time for us. How do we take advantage of this facility? We have little more than two years from now to see how Legend of the Seas performs, how the market in Asia is performing overall, where we think Hong Kong fits into the strategic picture medium-to-long-term, and what other infrastructure development there is in the region.
'One thing about the cruise industry is it's regional in nature. The home ports are key but you can't be an effective home port if there aren't great ports of call to visit.'
US cruise operator Royal Caribbean will deploy its Legend of the Seas in the region for a year from November. At about 70,000 gross tonnes and capacity for more than 2,000 passengers, Legend of the Seas is the smallest ship in its fleet. By the end of next year, the fleet will have 22 ships, 14 of which will be between 90,000 and 220,000 gross tonnes; its Oasis of the Seas is the world's biggest cruise ship.
Hong Kong's new cruise facilities are designed to handle ships like the 6,000-passenger Oasis of the Seas, set to be in service in five months. Mr Goldstein said Royal Caribbean strove to have all passengers embark or disembark within 15 minutes.
At Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where Oasis of the Seas would initially sail from, there were 90 immigration counters to process incoming passengers and 24 customs counters, although this was not necessarily what Hong Kong needed, he said.
At present, ships larger than Legend of the Seas cannot dock at Ocean Terminal and are usually diverted to the container terminal in Kwai Chung or have to anchor in the middle of the harbour.