Starting this June, some cruise ships sailing into Hong Kong will begin using a futuristic new home, the $1 billion Kai Tak Cruise Terminal (www.kaitakcruiseterminal.com.hk) with architectural design by Lord Norman Foster, eco-friendly features and impressive harbor views from the terminal's interior and rooftop.
The Hong Kong Tourism Board is eager to promote the new facilities at Cruise Shipping Miami, a major cruise industry conference that's expected to draw 11,000 participants this week in Miami Beach, FL. The tourism board will conduct a press briefing Tuesday afternoon.
Right now, Asia is a hotbed for cruise industry growth. "Total Asian cruise passengers could reach seven million by 2020 based on projected China cruise market growth," said Flora. "Asia could likely represent 20% of the global cruise market by 2020.”
A survey conducted by the Hong Kong Tourism Board in 2004 indicated that more than 50% of mainland Chinese visitors expressed interest in joining a cruise vacation in future. Of these, more than 80% would join conventional cruises from Hong Kong.
Hong Kong itself welcomed nearly 1.4 million cruise passengers in 2012, Flora said. Other destinations in the region also are reaping the economic benefits. Anticipating strong future cruise growth, Singapore opened the Marina Bay Cruise Centre last year. This spring, Princess will home port Sun Princess in Japan.
Demand for cruising from residents of Asia is also supplemented by North American and European cruisers who have "been there, done that" in Europe or the Caribbean and want to book an exotic Asian voyage on a line they already know, such as Royal Caribbean International, Holland America Line or Princess Cruises.
Two New Cruise Berths
The new Kai Tak Cruise Terminal can handle ships of up to 220,000 gross registered tonnage. It can also process 3,000 passengers an hour.
The first new cruise berth will open this year; it can accommodate ships of up to 1,492 feet in length. A second berth opening in summer 2014 will accommodate ships up to 1,295 feet.
More space is a plus, according to Flora. "We have been capacity-constrained for some time, as [the existing] Ocean Terminal is the only really larger terminal in Hong Kong,” he said. The destination will continue to use that facility for major cruise ship visits, and China Merchants Wharf can accommodate some others.
The first ship scheduled to officially utilize the new Kai Tak terminal is Royal Caribbean International’s (www.cruisingpower.com) Mariner of the Seas on June 12.
During 2014, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity and Princess will return, joined by Voyages of Discovery’s Voyager, Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines’ (www.bortonoverseas.com) Balmoral, and Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ Voyager.
While economic benefits seem evident, a recent South China Morning Post story claimed they may not materialize as quickly as the destination had hoped, though. See the story here: www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/article/1134757/predicted-economic-benefits-kai-tak-cruise-terminal-grossly-inflated.
A Terminal with a View
For customers, it's likely the perks will be clearer from the outset. “It wasn’t just designed to be a cruise terminal, but to be a world-class terminal that will set a new standard,” said Flora.“It is one of the signature pieces of architecture in Hong Kong."
The terminal will facilitate a smooth embarkation and disembarkation process, according to Flora. It will also deliver stellar Hong Kong skyline views both from inside the terminal and from its unique rooftop park.
As for sailaways? “As a cruise passenger, one of the marquee destinations in the world is Hong Kong,” Flora stressed. “There’s nothing like sailing out of Victoria Harbour.”
Cruise passengers arriving via the new terminal will be just a few miles from all major metropolitan areas of Hong Kong and three miles by road to Hung Hom Train Station for rail connections to Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Beijing, and other Chinese cities. The Kowloon Station Airport Express Line with its airline check-in facilities is just six miles away.
Operating the new Kai Tak Cruise Terminal is Worldwide Cruise Terminals, a consortium comprised of three entitites: Worldwide Flight Services (60% share), Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. (20%) and a third company that’s a subsidiary of Shun Tak Holdings Ltd. (20%).
From Past to Future
The new Kai Tak terminal is built on a site that has cache for many past Hong Kong travelers, particularly aviation buffs.
The Kai Tak site had served as Hong Kong’s main airport since the 1920s, but it was closed in 1998 and replaced by the new Hong Kong International Airport at Chek Lap Kok, 18 miles to the west.
For decades, airplanes approached Kai Tak on a harrowing final descent that navigated around mountains and between high-rise apartment buildings.
It wasn't unusual - just moments from touchdown - for passengers to look out their airplane windows to see Hong Kong residents hanging laundry out their windows or view them doing chores within their apartments.
Those close-up views were thrilling to some flyers, scary to others. Interestingly, Flora said the new Kai Tak cruise terminal was built atop the former airport runway by Dragages Hong Kong, the same construction firm that had originally constructed that runway.
Starting in June, Kai Tak will once again serve as an entry point for travelers - this time arriving by sea not air - but just as eager to explore one of Asia’s most dynamic cities.