New HK cruise terminal – a case of all berthed up and nowhere to spend
Well-heeled passengers on liners calling at Hong Kong’s planned Kai Tak terminal will have some commuting to do before being able to unleash their wallets.
People who take long holidays on cruise ships are not backpackers or students. Anyone who has seen one of the giant liners disgorging thousands of passengers will have noticed that the average age is well on the other side of 50.
The reason is obvious: To spend more than a long weekend away on a cruise ship requires a substantial chunk of spare cash, the kind of disposable income that comes with the accumulation of wealth over a long period slaving away.
For instance, one Hong Kong passenger on Silversea’s Silver Spirit apparently paid US$225,000 for a New Zealand to Hong Kong cruise with his family. Scores of others forked out up to US$1,500 a night for the vessel’s maiden voyage.
Whatever you think about the merits of spending profligate sums of money to stare out of portholes at the open sea (Note: portholes are round because otherwise the water would hit you square in the face) is beside the point.
The problem is that when these well heeled passengers arrive in Hong Kong on their big cruise ships, the vessels have to berth in out of the way places because they are too large for the Ocean Terminal. The container terminal is the usual default berthing venue for these large liners, but being a busy port there is limited space available.
That was the case this week when the Queen Mary 2, supposedly the world’s most luxurious liner, had to berth in Junk Bay up in the New Territories, with the 36,000-tonne Silver Spirit tying up at China Merchant's Wharf in Kennedy Town, the backside of Hong Kong Island. So in order to separate the wealthy visitors from their money, they have to be transported from the grubby docks to the overpriced malls so they can fully appreciate the Hong Kong shopping experience.
My point, in case you were wondering, is that the planned new cruise terminal for Hong Kong, already a year behind schedule, will be on the old Kai Tak airport site in Kowloon. The largest cruise liners in service will be accommodated at the terminal when it is completed in 2013.
Except Kai Tak is also in the middle of a wasteland, as far as wealthy shoppers are concerned. Passengers will have to be transported by limousine to the tourist traps of Nathan Road or Central. They apparently won’t use the city’s underground train system that will have a stop under the terminal, we are told by a morning newspaper, because rich old people don’t do public transport, no matter how convenient.
Convenience and luxury are essential for those on cruises, reckons Silversea's Asia regional director Melvyn Yap. But will the new Kai Tak terminal have enough of the trappings and designer labels to relieve visiting passengers of their holiday budgets? Now that remains to be seen.
On Friday, the HK government called for tenders for operating and managing the new cruise terminal when it is completed in mid-2013. The government has decided to build the terminal itself and lease it to an operator for a 10-year term (down from 50yrs) after rejecting two bids in 2008.
Tenderers ephasised the commercial side of the terminal in their bids, their reasoning being that a terminal alone would give a very low return on a huge investment. The bide were rejected by the government that is now going it alone.
Fortunately it has unlimited taxpayer resources at its disposal to squander at leisure.