14 Nov 2016
High Life on the High Seas
Complementing the long-established Ocean Terminal in Tsim Sha Tsui, which puts arriving passengers at the heart of one of the city’s most cosmopolitan and vibrant shopping, dining and cultural districts, Kai Tak Cruise Terminal, which opened in 2013, was built to accommodate two of the world's biggest vessels at the same time. The modern port facility attracted interest from the world’s leading cruise lines, and in the space of three years, the number of cruises offered from Hong Kong has grown from nine to more than 100 in 2016. With new destinations being offered on a growing range of itineraries, passengers are spoiled for choice. Meanwhile, business is booming for cruise line operators.
More Sailings, More Ships
Royal Caribbean International, the world’s-largest cruising brand, increased its Hong Kong sailings by almost 40 per cent in 2016, growing its passenger numbers from 60,000 in 2015 to about 90,000 this year – a rise of almost 50 per cent. In October, two sister mega-ships, the 138,000 tonne Voyager of the Seas and Mariner of the Seas, berthed at Kai Tak simultaneously, carrying some 7,000 passengers.
Balwin Yeung, Director of Sales and Marketing at Royal Caribbean Cruises Hong Kong, said this was the first time the state-of-the-art terminal had hosted two cruise ships of this magnitude alongside each other. “This shipping milestone clearly underscores the current burgeoning growth of the Hong Kong cruise industry,” he said.
Growth recorded by the company “shows the strong demand for high-quality international cruises” in Hong Kong, Mr Yeung said. He noted that the Quantum Class, the 168,000-tonne liner Ovation of the Seas had just begun a one-month homeport season in Hong Kong. “We believe this is the largest cruise ship ever to be based out of Hong Kong and we are sure it will mark yet another cruising milestone for the city from Royal Caribbean.” It’s also one of the newest and most technologically advanced ships on the sea, Mr Yeung said.
In addition to world-class dining, entertainment, decor and exciting on-board amenities, this “smart ship” offers a new on-board app, called Royal iQ, which allows guests to track cruise activities, as well as reminds them about excursions and other reservations made.
“Another cool addition is the robot bartenders at the Bionic Bar,” he said. “These masterpieces of technology can create a custom drink selected on a tablet by the guest, or pour their favourite mixed cocktail in seconds.”
A unique entertainment venue at the rear of the ship, called Two70, is named for its 270 degree, floor-to-ceiling views of the ocean. It transforms from a room for dining and relaxation during the day to a high-energy technology entertainment space at night. Other high-tech features include the ship’s Northstar observation capsule, which takes guests 300 feet over the sea for bird’s eye views of the ocean and their arrival destinations; the iFLy skydiving experience; and the various activities at SeaPlex, the largest indoor-sports complex at sea, including bumper cars.
Dream Cruises, a brand owned by Hong Kong-headquartered Genting Hong Kong (formerly known as Star Cruises) this month is launching Genting Dream, a purpose-built ship for the Asian market. With 35 restaurant, bar and café offerings, a nightclub as well as new shore excursions and activities (including underwater submersibles), the ship will be the first of its kind in the region, according to Dream Cruises’ President Thatcher Brown.
“Currently, the majority of ships with homeports in China are mainly targeted to the mass-market consumer with the occasional premium ship deployment in this region on a more seasonal rather than a permanent basis,” he said.
“However, Asia continues to take a bigger percentage of the global cruise industry each year, with China being a major growth engine for the region.” As the cruise market continues to evolve and mature, so will the competition, Mr Brown noted. Dream Cruises will compete by “introducing a new standard of excellence in service and quality at sea.”
Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (NCLH) is preparing for the Hong Kong sailing season of its liner, Norwegian Star, in January 2017. Destinations will include Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand and Bali in Indonesia.
The company opened a Hong Kong office in 2015, as part of a region-wide expansion. Felix Chan, Vice President of Sales Asia, said that the ship offers a relaxed cruising style. On-board features include 15 dining options, 11 bars and lounges, a sprawling spa, casino “plus tonnes of fun for kids of every age.”
“Recently refurbished, Norwegian Star is proving very popular and we anticipate very positive results,” he said.
The company’s expansion into Asia underlines its confidence in the future of the cruise industry in the Asia market, Mr Chan said. “NCLH is aiming to capitalise on the exponential growth of the cruise business among Asian travellers, with its plans to base its ships in the Asia region from June 2017.
Destination Hong Kong
Cruise lines targeting the growing Chinese market see Hong Kong as an ideal starting point for voyages, and for some, as home port for vessels that are getting bigger and better equipped, Mr Chan said.
“The Chinese-source cruise market is growing at a triple-digit rate and that includes Hong Kong. The number of cruise passengers visiting Hong Kong rose by 23 per cent, to 452,768, in 2015 and in 2017, the Kai Tak terminal alone will handle 660,000 passengers.
“In March 2016, a record 23 ships called at Kai Tak, including the Oceania Insignia, which is engaged in a 180-day round-the-world voyage starting and finishing in Miami, Florida. Like most luxury liners coming to Hong Kong, it was fully booked.”
Ocean Terminal, he added, “is good for our smaller boutique ships where luxury customers want to be close to the city.”
Hong Kong is one of the world’s biggest tourist destinations, making it highly attractive as a cruise destination, especially with North Americans and Europeans, Mr Chan said.
“It’s an attractive ‘turnaround port’ – guests want to embark and disembark in Hong Kong. We serve guests not only from Hong Kong, but also from southern China due to close proximity and from overseas, thanks to excellent flight connections.”