HongKong

Hong Kong Kai Tak cruise terminal operator rejects shopper-friendly makeover, stresses role as homeport for ships

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The operator of Hong Kong’s Kai Tak Cruise Terminal has rejected a proposal to revitalize the underused facility as a shopping mall after lawmakers and industry insiders proposed revamping the underused facility to attract more tourists.

Jeff Bent, managing director of Universal Cruise Terminals, emphasized late Thursday that the main purpose of the site is to serve as a homeport for ships and a temporary stop before passengers embark or disembark.

“People are traveling with their families and suitcases, and they don’t want to shop at the terminal,” he said. “They get free meals on the cruise, so probably most of them don’t want to eat.”

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Homeports are often used to help people get on and off ships, as opposed to ports of call that are surrounded by retail and tourist attractions, Bent explained.

The terminal was in the spotlight last week as passengers complained of being stuck there and unable to travel to other parts of the city, while taxi drivers said they had stayed away from the terminal due to erratic demand for their services.

On Tuesday night, authorities drew up contingency plans to offer 50 Hong Kong dollar ($6) vouchers to taxi drivers who arrived at the terminal the next morning.

The program also adds three new shuttle bus routes and a free bus route 22R for passengers disembarking from Resorts World One cruise ships.

Legislative Council member Chen Haiyan said that the government should take the opportunity to improve the pier and make it a tourist attraction.

Resorts World One is one of only two cruise ships docked for the remainder of the month, with Spectrum of the Seas making a visit on Aug. 19 before returning on Sept. 23.

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Resorts World One, which is also the only liner currently homeporting in Hong Kong, will use the facility on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays throughout August.

The cruise terminal in Kowloon City, which was closed for three years, has been unable to attract tourists amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

The facility houses the Hong Kong Cruise Line Academy and five restaurants, including Chinese-style banquet and casual dining venues, and a Hong Kong-style teahouse or tea restaurant, according to the terminal’s listing.

While retail space accounts for only 4 per cent of the 5,574 square meters of commercial space, all of the terminal’s shops are leased, with tenants renewing their agreements as recently as June, Bent said.

Choi Ting-bong, executive director of the Hong Kong Tourist Association, agrees that the terminal should not be turned into a shopping mall, and firmly believes that a strong shuttle bus network is enough to solve any problems.

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“For example, (cruise ship passengers) will want to squeeze in as much time as possible for sightseeing in the city before they leave around 4 p.m.,” Chui said. “A strong and efficient shuttle network is very important because tourists come to Hong Kong for the fun, not for the cruise terminal.”

While Cui acknowledged that more coffee shops and souvenir shops would be attractive to disembarking passengers, he said the terminal should focus on its main purpose of welcoming tourists and crew to help boost tourism.

“The cruise terminal has two tasks. One is to attract more liners to Hong Kong as soon as possible. The other is to attract high-spending customers, using it as a global link rather than a shopping mall,” he said.

Meanwhile, Yang Ziqing, chief executive of the Hong Kong Cruise and Yachting Industry Association, said the terminal could be turned into a “little Hong Kong” with regular shuttle bus services to ensure smooth traffic and attract locals during the off-season.

“If there are some shuttle bus routes to Tsim Sha Tsui and Mong Kok when there are no cruise ships calling, it will be attractive to locals and tourists who might not otherwise come to the pier as an attraction,” she said.

Yang, who runs a business at the terminal, said local themed shops are attractive to tourists because they are more interested in souvenirs that reflect the city’s unique flavor than duty-free goods.

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Yip Hing-ning, president of the Hong Kong Association of Travel Agents, said the surrounding area had a negative impact on passengers’ disembarkation experience.

“When you get off a cruise ship, you’re surrounded by construction sites and community quarantine facilities. Then you have to wait an hour for transportation, and you only have a few hours to experience the city,” he said. “It hurts tourists’ first impression of Hong Kong.”

The terminal was built on the runway of the former Kai Tak Airport at a cost of HK$6.6 billion and opened in 2013.

The facility, which has been slammed as a “white elephant” project, has a floor area the size of Victoria Park in Causeway Bay.

In 2019, the port received 178 ships, accounting for more than 90% of the city’s cruise passenger throughput. Affected by the epidemic, port activities were suspended in February 2020, and cruise ships returned in January this year.

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