Government projections of the financial benefits of the Kai Tak terminal appear to be overestimated by as much as 75 per cent, a South China Morning Post investigation has found.
Official estimates reported in 2008 suggested the total value-added contribution to the economy would be HK$860 million to HK$1.09 billion this year alone.
But an analysis of the numbers expected when 37,000 passengers on 16 ships using the terminal between its opening in June and April next year suggest this is hugely optimistic.
An examination of each vessel's itinerary by the Post shows Hong Kong will be a port of call for seven out of 10 passengers; the rest will be joining or ending their cruise tours in the city.
Based on the 2012 per capita spending of the two types of cruise tourists - HK$4,833 for those starting or ending their tours in Hong Kong and HK$2,141 for those stopping in briefly on their tour - all passengers will spend about HK$100 million in that time. This figure will be boosted by the value-added approach of economic analysis, which takes into consideration a "multiplier effect" of tourist expenditure, meaning the sum could go from one business to another and create bigger benefits.
The multiplier is 2.5 to 3 in Hong Kong, so HK$100 million of tourist spending would add HK$300 million to the city's gross domestic product, associate professor of economics at Chinese University Terence Chong Tai-leung said. This is just over a quarter of the official estimate.
Hang Seng Management College's dean of school of business Professor Raymond So Wai-man said the government tended to exaggerate the benefits of projects.
Delays in the terminal's construction may have dragged on its competitiveness, he said, but its opening would be the starting point for HK to join the cruise race.
Chong agreed: "The building of a terminal can enhance the city's image and create long-term benefits."
Work on the long-awaited terminal started in 2009, after the site lay vacant for more than a decade.
The government failed to find a suitable candidate to build the terminal, and eventually decided to build it itself at a cost of HK$7.2 billion.
Competitor Singapore opened its Marina Bay Cruise Centre last October. From this June to April it will handle 89 dockings.
Jeff Bent of Worldwide Flight Services, a partner in the consortium that will run the Kai Tak terminal, said he was disappointed in the number of ship calls.
Cruise companies were not confident the terminal would open on schedule and had not bothered to book ships into it.