Why Kai Tak cruise hub is such a slow boat

October 28, 2014 17:34
Kai Tak tourists complain that they have to wait an hour for a taxi to get out of the cruise terminal. Photo: Bloomberg

A year after its opening, Hong Kong’s Kai Tak Cruise Terminal is vacant most of the time.

Aiming to make it Asia’s cruise hub, the government pumped HK$8.2 billion (US$1.05 billion) into the two-berth terminal, four times more than initial estimates.

Nevertheless, officials found it a worthwhile investment, with projections of potential economic benefits from the facility at HK$2.5 billion and as many as 8,900 new jobs created by 2023.

However, it's clear that the cruise terminal has a long way to go before it can achieve that goal.

Only 28 ships have called at the Kai Tak Terminal this year. The disappointing figure prompted legislators to question whether the terminal can actually become a cruise hub as hoped.

In a meeting of the economic development panel on Monday, Liberal Park leader James Tien criticized the utilization rate of the terminal as too low compared with its Singapore counterpart.

Singapore’s two-berth Marina Bay Cruise Center has handled 140 ships since it opened in May 2012.

In those two years, the Singapore terminal completed a S$7 million (US$5.5 million) upgrade of facilities and services.

Among others, the baggage handling system in the departure area now boasts faster processing and bigger capacity.

The taxi area has been redesigned to allow several taxis to pick up passengers simultaneously.

Meanwhile, the Kai Tak terminal is lagging behind in tourist-friendly infrastructure.

Except taxis and shuttle buses, there is no other way to transport passengers from the terminal. Singapore, on the other hand, has a well-connected network of public buses and limousine services that compliment the MRT, its efficient rail system.

Visitors to Kai Tak complain that they have to wait an hour for a taxi. An MTR station is not scheduled to open for another four years while a proposed monorail which would connect the terminal with East Kowloon is still under discussion.

"The aim of building this cruise terminal is to attract more tourists but things are not yet on track," Tien said.

With facilities like Chinese restaurants, Hong Kong-style cha chaan teng – local cafes that provide eclectic and affordable menus -- and events like book fair, the terminal has become a leisure place for local people, which is far from the original idea, he said.

Some legislators, including independent lawmaker Paul Tse, support opening more bars to create a ”new” Lan Kwai Fong atmosphere, borrowing from a popular hangout for expatriates in the central business district.

Commissioner for Tourism Philip Yung said the government is looking for ways to boost the terminal’s traffic.

For example, incentives will be offered to neighboring cities and international cruise companies that choose Kai Tak as a stop.

Yung said business is gradually improving and the number of ships handled by the terminal is expected to double to 55 next year.

He is confident the best is yet to come. Some cruise companies, including industry leader Royal Caribbean International, are considering making Kai Tak their home port, he told legislators. 

– Contact [email protected]


EJ Insight writer