Asia Cruise Fund Gains Members, Hong Kong Promotes Regional Cruising

Kai Tak's new dual-berth cruise terminal is designed to attract more cruise business. // Photo by HKTB

While much of the Asian cruising hype this year has revolved around Shanghai, definitely don't count out another cruise tiger, Hong Kong, which is also flexing its promotional muscle to attract new cruise lines and develop new itineraries that either call or turnaround at the destination.

From January through September 2014, cruise transit passenger arrivals from the long-haul markets to Hong Kong were up 18 percent, although Hong Kong’s home port cruise passenger totals were down 8.1 percent. Short-haul market clients, though, excluding those from mainland China, were up a whopping 125.1 percent.

Overall, for the first nine months of this year (versus the same period a year ago), Hong Kong welcomed 1.25 million cruise passengers, up 12.7 percent. The destination hopes to keep those totals moving upward. 

Asia Cruise Fund

During a cruise conference in Hong Kong last month, the Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) and the Taiwan Tourism Bureau (TTB) recently announced the addition of Hainan, China and the Philippines to the Asia Cruise Fund, which was formed by the duo this past spring to promote regional cooperation for attracting cruise tourism. 

The Asia Cruise Fund motivates international cruise lines to deploy more ships to the region and for lines to increase their investment in Asia. Currently, funding is approved for a number of itineraries featuring Hong Kong and Taiwan developed by various cruise lines. 

Representatives from the four destinations signed an official agreement at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre during a recent conference. The four partners will also invite other ports in the region to enter the strategic alliance.

Hainan and the Philippines will become official members of the Asia Cruise Fund in December 2014 and April 2015, respectively.

Strength in Numbers

“When the HKTB initiated the concept of a cruise co-op fund, we envisioned a strategic alliance which benefits not only cruise lines through funding support for them to market their products, but also the member ports and the Asian region at large, as new itineraries and more ship calls to Asia ultimately enhance consumer interest in cruise travel in the region,” said Dr. Peter Lam, chairman, HKTB.

Lam said HKTB was pleased to receive Taiwan’s support for the idea back in February, which made the launch of the Asia Cruise Fund possible. “We are excited that Hainan and the Philippines are joining us in our effort,” he said.

From Taiwan's perspective, “we are confident that by linking the unique features of these four destinations, we will enrich the content of the Asian packages offered by cruise operators and strengthen their confidence in the Asian market,” said Dr. Wayne Liu, deputy director-general, TTB. Liu said the effort will both expand the scale and boost the competitiveness of the market – transforming the alliance from a single “line” between two places to an entire area.

He too stressed that the fund will encourage more Asian destinations wishing to develop cruise tourism to join the Asia Cruise Fund. The region is attractive to cruise lines for two reasons -- first, as a major source market for Asian cruisers and second, as a region that can deliver the exotic itineraries that North Americans, Australian, European and other repeat cruisers are seeking.

Sizable Growth  

Secretary Ramon R. Jimenez, Jr. from the Philippine Department of Tourism explained there has been a dramatic influx of cruise arrivals to his country, with an average growth rate over the past two years of 40 percent; he said that's expected to hit 50 percent by year’s end. 

Zhu Hongwu, deputy director of the Hainan Provincial Tourism Development Commission, said: "Through participating in the Asia Cruise Fund, we want to attract cruise lines to develop more itineraries featuring Hainan."

It's clear that while Shanghai is rising in stature with major cruise companies (Alan Buckelew, Carnival Corp.'s COO, is already based there, plus Royal Caribbean's new Quantum of the Seas will be positioned there in spring 2015), Hong Kong have also stepped up its game to attract new cruise business.

Cruise ships now utilize the new Kai Tak Cruise Terminal on Kowloon. // Photo courtesy HKTB

In Hong Kong, cruise lines now utilize two major terminals, the Ocean Terminal as well as the snazzy new, dual-berth Kai Tak Cruise Terminal in Kowloon, located on a former international airport site. While that new terminal is sparsely used, at present, it represents growth potential. 

One major step that could help Hong Kong build a stronger case for cruise tourism? HKTB recently appointed veteran cruise industry executive Bob Sharak, president of Bob Sharak & Associates, Inc., as its new North American cruise representative. Sharak is well known to travel agents, having spent more than 20 years at CLIA where he rose in the ranks to become executive vice president of marketing and distribution.

Sharak will support the Hong Kong Tourism Board through strategic input, market intelligence and connections with cruise executives to help position Hong Kong as Asia’s cruise hub. “We are pleased to have a seasoned cruise marketing expert like Bob Sharak who can help accelerate Hong Kong's rapidly growing cruise business,” said Lau.

To learn more about Hong Kong and its extensive cruise efforts, visit the Hong Kong Tourism Board’s website.

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