After a 15-month freeze, cruises out of Hong Kong will likely restart end of July – at the earliest – with strictly regulated cruise-to-nowhere itineraries for vaccinated residents.
In announcing its decision on May 26, the Hong Kong government said that participating cruises must adhere to a set of health precautionary measures specifically designed for cruise travel. These measures include sailing with a fully vaccinated crew that must undergo a Covid-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) nucleic acid test shoreside and obtain a negative result every 14 days; having all passengers to obtain a negative PCR test result within 48 hours prior to boarding; and reducing passenger capacity to no more than 50 per cent.
The news is met with relief across Hong Kong’s travel agencies, especially those that specialise in retailing cruises.
According to Hong Kong Outbound Tour Operators’ Association, chairman, Johnny So, the resumption of cruising will benefit travel agencies as well as logistic and transport suppliers.
As over 90 per cent of cruise bookings come from agents, So said retailing cruise packages “is way better than counting local tour or staycation (business)”.
Welcoming the news too is Jeff Bent, managing director of Worldwide Cruise Terminals, which manages Kai Tak Cruise Terminal. Both Genting Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean International have booked berths at the Kai Tak Cruise Terminal.
Bent said: “The conditions are now ripe for a restart, and many parties will benefit.”
He added: “Many local firms and employees will benefit from cruise resumption, including travel agencies, ground handlers, ship agents, stevedores, ground transport providers, provisioners, bunkerers, tugs, pilots, and mooring, security and cleaning providers.”
When asked what sort of cruise itineraries would work best to entice Hong Kongers amid the pandemic, So suggested: “Three-day weekend escapes would work as Hong Kongers are hungry for travel. I am sure diverse entertainment on board, such as casino games, would meet Hong Kongers’ need, especially those who cannot set foot in Macau for gaming.”
So expects strong interest in the cruise restart, but said that the requirement for all passengers to be fully vaccinated might “dampen the desire to go onboard”.
“In Singapore, vaccination is not a prerequisite and (cruises) did well without outbreak so far,” So remarked.
He emphasised that cruises have been abiding health and safety protocols, which will earn consumers’ confidence. Citing an example, he said Royal Caribbean International has ships equipped with negative pressure rooms for emergency use. Passengers capacity is also halved, with only rooms with balconies are available for booking.
EGL Tours, executive director, Steve Huen, told TTG Asia that the travel trade has been pushing the idea of cruise resumption to the government for months. While the decision is now made to bring back cruising for Hong Kong, he said it would take another two months at least for cruise lines to prepare – such as by vaccinating and quarantining crew.
While cruise bookings account for only a single-digit component of his business, Huen said it is the one source of revenue to rely on when outbound travel is still restricted.
“We will channel more resources to build this segment but we expect many other agents will also vie for this,” Huen said.
Soon after the government’s announcement, Genting Hong Kong’s Dream Cruises said it would commence summer sailings with Genting Dream at the end of July, offering two- and three-night itineraries. Bookings will open today.