Space-age glass building scheduled to open next year A multibillion-yuan terminal nearing completion on the Huangpu River in the heart of Shanghai could help fulfil the city's ambition to become the top cruise ship hub in Asia. The space-age glass building, officially the Shanghai Port International Cruise Terminal but appropriately nicknamed the Bubble, is scheduled to open next year. It will be able to dock three mid-sized cruise ships at a time, each displacing about 80,000 tonnes, and handle a million passengers a year - 10 times the current traffic. It has a prime site opposite the Lujiazui financial centre and is a few hundred metres from the Bund. Very large cruise ships, which often displace 110,000 tonnes or more, will still have to berth at Waigaoqiao Port because they cannot pass under Yangpu Bridge. Their passengers have to be bussed 60 kilometres to and from central Shanghai. Construction of the terminal, on a 165,000 square metre site, began in 2004. Its cost has been estimated at more than 1.8 billion yuan, a figure He Binwu, general manager of the Shanghai Port International Cruise Terminal Development, declined to confirm. Mr He said the project was being financed by state-owned, Shanghai-listed parent company Shanghai International Port. 'I am confident we will be the best [terminal] in the Far East,' said Mr He. 'We have our own geographical advantage and can overtake Hong Kong, Singapore and other mainland cities. We will be the largest cruise centre in the world [by land area] and have the most advanced equipment, such as anti-terrorist devices ... all located in the heart of Shanghai.' Mr He, who worked in Hong Kong for 20 years, said he believed Hong Kong people enjoyed a 'fast life', with many only interested in going on cruise ships to gamble. 'So a large proportion of [Hong Kong] cruise companies' revenue is derived from gambling,' he said. 'We don't want to compete with them in this area because of the mainland's ban on gambling.' He expected the terminal's throughput to easily reach 500,000 by 2010, the year the city hosts the World Expo. International cruise ships started visiting Shanghai in 2000. Three years later, about 20,000 passengers arrived or departed from the city. The numbers jumped to 25 ships and 77,000 passengers in 2005 and last year 59 ships and nearly 100,000 domestic and foreign cruise passengers passed through Shanghai. In July of last year Genoa-based Costa Crociere Cruises launched a Shanghai-Japan-South Korea itinerary using its 1,000-passenger Costa Allegra, one of its fleet of 12 that serve Asia. It was the first international cruise line to run a service from a mainland city. In 2004, Singapore-based Star Cruises set up an office in Shanghai to sell tickets but passengers had to fly to Hong Kong or Singapore to board ships. US-based Royal Caribbean Cruises has announced plans to start operating cruises from Shanghai next April, using its 2,400-passenger Rhapsody of the Seas, with prices as low as US$549 per head. Rama Rebbapragada, managing director for Asia-Pacific at Royal Caribbean Cruises, shares Mr He's confidence in the cruise sector's outlook. He said his company would expand from six departures next year to eight in 2009 with the 2,000-passenger Legend of the Seas replacing Rhapsody of the Seas. In 2009, a ship operating under its luxury brand, Azamara Cruises, carrying a high percentage of European and North American passengers, will also call at Shanghai. 'More and more Chinese are beginning to travel overseas and are trying new forms of recreation,' said Mr Rebbapragada, adding that the mainland had the potential to become a premier cruise market. The Shanghai government's port development blueprint for the next five years calls for speeding up cruise ship tourism and for Shanghai to serve as a mother port from which cruises originate. It was a good strategy, said Hu Jianwei, a tourism researcher at Shanghai Normal University, because home ports could earn about seven times the income of mere ports of call. 'Industries like ship repair, refuelling, stores, retail shops and hospitality facilities will be greatly developed,' Mr Hu said. In addition to the American-designed 'Bubble' terminal sitting above the riverbank, three floors below ground will have more than 200,000 square metres of space housing underground parking, check-in and security facilities. A 600-metre, partially transparent passageway with a moving footway will carry passengers from the terminal to their ships in 20 minutes. The terminal, which fronts 880 metres of the Huangpu River, has room for more berths to be added later. The site also has large areas of green space and several commercial properties. But a China Travel Service cruise department director in Shanghai said nurturing the mainland market could be a long process. 'Many people don't understand the concept of cruise travel,' said the CTS official who declined to be identified. 'They regard cruise ships as transportation, like airplanes and trains. They are price-sensitive and raise questions such as whether food and rooms on board are free.' Mr Rebbapragada said Royal Caribbean Cruises was organising seminars in large mainland cities to promote its cruises to tour agents and customers. Mr He said that if the Shanghai market proved satisfactory, his company would consider building more berths with the aim of challenging the world's top two cruise hubs - Miami and Barcelona.