'Massimo Brancaleoni, a vice-president of the Costa Crociere cruise line, and Joseph Lam - who represents another line, Royal Caribbean, in Hong Kong - declined to comment until after today's regular quarterly meeting of the Advisory Committee on the Cruise Industry. Mr Lam said Asian cruise itineraries had not been planned beyond 2010.' SCMP, July 10 There are more members of this advisory committee, of course, two more cruise line officers, seven travel agents and a representative of the Tourism Board to orchestrate the applause whenever one of the other members speaks up. They were appointed in January and, according to a government shill at the time: 'We look forward to their advice on measures to further develop Hong Kong into a must-see cruise destination, and to attract ...' You get the picture, 12 sharks licking their lips round a table in anticipation of a tasty dish of public funding, yum-yum-yum. But we have some problems here. Only two developers submitted tenders to build our big new cruise terminal and both were deemed invalid for demanding concessions that were not on offer. The reported price of this facility has now risen to HK$4 billion from a 2006 estimate of HK$2.4 billion and we, the taxpayers, will have to stump up HK$2 billion of the cost. Have you ever wondered, as I often have, why it is that this tourism industry, which is supposed to provide so many good things for Hong Kong, only ever shows itself to demand more money from us, big sums, too? If the pay-off to us is meant to be so good, how come we never collect? But let us leave this aside. One obvious reason that developers show no interest in the project is that it is to be built in our equivalent of Siberia, the far tip of the old Kai Tak runway. It will require turning much of the rest of the runway into roadway, thus destroying another opportunity for a glorious big inner city park and ensuring that the cruise terminal location remains Siberia forever. No one else will be there. And this in turn will mean that the commercial portions of the cruise terminal will have to pay for that terminal on retail traffic from cruise passengers alone which you cannot blame any developer for treating as a very remote prospect. I admit I have been told that the government's official figure for spending by cruise passengers last year, a grand total for the whole year of only HK$46.7 million (get out your microscope), understates the real spending level. I'm not so sure of that. Cruise lines don't want their passengers to spend money onshore. They want them to spend it on the boat instead and they have a thousand clever tricks for making sure that that's the way it goes. What is more, there really aren't very many of these cruise passengers around. The official figures show only about 39,000 passenger arrivals a month from ocean-going vessels last year, about 1.7 per cent of total visitor arrivals and many of these passengers are actually Hong Kong residents, not visitors. I have also been told that these figures are also suspect and again I am not so sure. Hong Kong has no Bermuda or Norwegian fjord in easy reach and we are far away from the developed world cruise market. Go on a cruise here and you can look at the ocean waves all day long, unless you prefer the muck of the Shanghai harbour. I stand to be proven wrong, however, and it is the Advisory Committee on the Cruise Industry that can prove me wrong. With an immediate meeting pending, its members were probably right on Wednesday to decline comment on the news that the tenders had failed but I have heard nothing from them since. This is odd. They must have discussed it at the meeting and they have a golden opportunity to come to the rescue and assure us all that the HK$2 billion we are now to front up for their sake is not entirely money wasted on our part, that the world is desperate to visit Hong Kong by cruise ship and saving up trillions to spend while here. They can, for instance, do what cruise operators in New York did when New York faced a similar conundrum on whether to build a new cruise terminal. New York went ahead only after the cruise lines gave binding commitments on passengers they would bring to New York for the next 10 years. But the only comment we have from Cruise Advisory Committee members (they didn't really decline comment) is that travel itineraries have not been planned beyond 2010. Is it possible that once again we have made a firm commitment, and in hard money, to that pack of corporate beggars we call the tourism industry and in return got no commitment from them at all, not even a word of thanks, only a bald statement that they don't commit themselves for longer than a year or two at most. Surely those bureaucrats who so blithely agreed to splurge out HK$2 billion of our money wouldn't allow themselves to be rolled over like that, would they? Surely not.