Private-public collaboration needed to improve fragmented visa conditions in Asia: cruise industry leaders

Cruise industry players are calling for greater and deeper collaboration among private and public sectors to speed up cruise development in Asia.

Speaking at the recent Seatrade Cruise Asia Pacific 2023, panellists say dissimilar visa and immigration procedures remain the major challenge faced by cruise liners in the region.

Panellists urge for standardisation and uniformity in visa and immigration procedures in Asia (Photo: Prudence Lui)

For example, visa-free access for international cruise travellers to China is only available at the port of Shanghai while in South Korea visa policy rotations, done so to prevent corruption, are disruptive to travel plans.

Panellists urge for standardisation and uniformity in visa and immigration procedures.

Royal Caribbean Group, regional vice president, government relations for Asia, Wendy Yamazaki, contended that such a complete change would probably take years.

“The Schengen visa (equivalent in Asia) would be the more ideal scenario that we can dream of, but in transition period what would be useful is transparency, consistence and predictability, not just across the region, but even within a country,” said Yamazaki, adding that it has been time-consuming to “deal with issues in just one country” due to differing regulations from port to port.

Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries, Marine Leisure Tourism Division, deputy director, Hwang In-seong, believes that relevant events will bring about mindset changes and lead to the standardised visa and immigration scenario cruise liners desire.

“Our Asia Jeju Cruise Forum held last July attracted discussions between port of calls and cruise liners in East Asia. We need to think how to promote standardisation and accessible visa and CIQ (customs, immigration and quarantine) policies so that cruise liners can easily come to our region,” Hwang said.

As an unofficial affiliation established to drive tourism and cooperation with cruise destinations a decade ago, the Asia Cruise Cooperation (ACC) believes it can help to take top-level conversations forward to achieve improved visa and immigration procedures.

The ACC comprises six members – Hong Kong, Hainan and Xiamen in Greater China, Taiwan, the Philippines, and South Korea. Its secretariat Kenneth Wong, who is also general manager for MICE & cruise at Hong Kong Tourism Board, said one of ACC’s directions is to have members come together at the government-to-government level, and exert influence on visa decision-makers.

Wong added that the group can also connect with relevant agencies and stakeholders in the Greater Bay Area (GBA) to jointly advance cruise tourism development.

Noting that the GBA is a huge source market and attractive destination for cruising, Wong said: “We see so much possibility in the GBA recently. China Merchants Viking Cruises, for example, recently launched a new cruise itinerary for Shenzhen, Vietnam and Hong Kong. We are happy to receive their very high-end Mainland Chinese clients.”

He sees collaboration possibilities with Hong Kong tourism players too. In the case of China Merchants Viking Cruises, Hong Kong could feature its Wine & Dine Festival in the shore excursion programming so that cruise clients could come ashore for a “total experience”.

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