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Plenty of business to go around in Asia’s cruise industry

Posted to Far East Maritime (by on December 4, 2009

Hong Kong, Shanghai and Singapore will emerge as the region’s cruise hubs.

In a blog post a couple of months ago, I expressed doubt that the cruise business would ever take off in Hong Kong considering how long the three-legged government tortoises were taking to build a new terminal.
Not so, said Wallem Shipping (HK) director Simon Doughty.
He reckons that the cruise business will be one of the fastest growing industries in the region over the next decade and there will be more than enough to go around.
But what about the glacial pace of the terminal development at the old Kai Tak airport site in Hong Kong, I asked? It will only be online in 2013, and in the four years until the first ship ties up alongside the cruise companies will have establish hubs somewhere else.
Doughty disagreed again. He said the terminal was certainly taking far too long but when it opened in 2013 the largest ships in the business would quickly fill it. Hong Kong would become one of Asia’s three cruise hubs around which the regional itinerary was structured, the other two cities being Shanghai and Singapore.
Unfortunately, cruise terminals on their own are major loss makers, which is why developers insist on having the waterfront backed up by huge and high-end shopping centres or casinos or other quantitative easing-type businesses. For any city, the cruise season will only last for a few months a year before boats move on to sunnier or less typhoon-prone climates.
But there is an even greater problem in Asia and it is one that affects all cruise companies trying to serve the rapidly growing industry. In busy cruise regions such as Europe passengers and crew clear immigration and customs once when they board the vessel and once when they leave after the cruise. In Asia, immigration and customs authorities demand to actually see every passenger and crew of every cruise ship that calls at every port.
This results in passengers lining up in the ships’ dining rooms before they are allowed to disembark, an irritating and time consuming process.
Doughty said when a cruise ship called in Hong Kong recently he saw a team or 50 immigration and customs officials coming onboard to check passports.
A far simpler process, Doughty believes, would be for the crew and passengers to clear immigration at the port of embarkation and a manifest be handed to all other authorities at each port of call.
With no borders, this process would be simple in the European Union, but it seems unlikely to happen in Asia any time soon. Which means if you are planning to go port hopping around the region on one of the bigger cruise ships , factor in a lot of face time with immigration and customs officers.

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