Exclusive | Hong Kong tourism blueprint to revamp Kai Tak’s role, minister says

A blueprint for Hong Kong’s tourism landscape will recalibrate Kai Tak’s role, the city’s culture chief has said, while also revealing authorities will explore ways to improve the cruise terminal and adjust plans based on how the area develops.

In an exclusive interview with the Post, Secretary for Culture, Sports and Tourism Kevin Yeung Yun-hung said authorities might put the management rights of the Kai Tak Cruise Terminal up for tender once the existing contract expired in 2028.

“We need to wait and see whether everyone will be satisfied with [the operator’s] overall performance by then,” he said on Friday, without giving his own assessment. “How will the public score them?”

Tourism chief Kevin Yeung says initial plans for the Kai Tak Cruise Terminal need to be adjusted based on how the area has developed over time. Photo: Edmond So

The port’s operator, Worldwide Cruise Terminals, and city authorities came under fire over chaotic transport arrangements when Royal Caribbean International’s Spectrum of the Seas returned to Hong Kong for the first time in more than a year on August 4, carrying about 4,000 passengers.

Many complained of long waits for taxis and other public transport, prompting authorities to temporarily ramp up bus services and offer incentives for taxi drivers to pick up the waiting tourists.

Hong Kong cruise terminal operator rejects commercial revamp, stresses role as port

The fiasco also prompted closer scrutiny of how the terminal was being managed and its underused facilities, as well as planning in the wider Kai Tak area.

Last year, Worldwide Cruise Terminals Consortium – a three-way partnership between Worldwide Flight Services Holding, Royal Caribbean Cruises and Shun Tak Holdings – was granted a five-year extension to its lease on the port starting June 1.

“It was in the middle of the pandemic [when we renewed the contract],” Commissioner for Tourism Vivian Sum Fong-kwang told the Post.

Commissioner for Tourism Vivian Sum says authorities will not rule out placing the management rights of the terminal up for tender in 2028. Photo: Edmond So

“At the time, there was very little interest from the market because nobody knew when the pandemic was going to end. But we anticipated once it did ease, the terminal would need to be started up immediately.

“But regardless of the consortium’s performance, we will not rule out placing the management rights up for tender again in 2028, as government regulations require it.”

In his October policy address, Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu unveiled the “Blueprint for Hong Kong’s Tourism Industry 2.0”, which included the Kai Tak area.

He also announced a plan for the development of the cruise tourism economy, with further details expected in the first half of next year.

Tourism chief Yeung said authorities would explore how to improve the port given Kai Tak’s current landscape, which had changed significantly from when the terminal was built.

“When we were planning the terminal, we decided it would just be a port of entry and exit for visitors, because back then, the surrounding areas had been reserved for commercial use like hotels and shopping centres,” he said.

Hong Kong’s new transport set-up helps cruise passengers ‘reach city centre faster’

“But these plans need to be adjusted according to real developments of the greater Kai Tak area, so we must take a look.”

Yeung said the area was no longer exclusive to tourists, as a number of private housing estates had been built, as well as the Kai Tak Sports Park set to open by the end of 2024.

The area has undergone several rounds of urban planning changes since the old airport closed in 1998. Plans for a hotel never came to fruition as developers abandoned tender offers, while proposals for a monorail were also set aside.

Cruise passengers wait for public transport at the Kai Tak Cruise Terminal in August. Photo: Jelly Tse

Yeung on Friday said a new Tourism Strategy Committee, which he would chair, would study how to grow the city’s tourism market by targeting a more diverse pool of sightseers, rather than focusing solely on mainland Chinese visitors.

According to official statistics, visitors from across the border accounted for about 80 per cent of the city’s total tourists, both before and after the pandemic.

Following the policy address, the Culture, Sports and Tourism Bureau said it would develop signature tourism products such as green and cultural tours.

It added it would also focus on growing the cruise tourism sector, expanding efforts in procuring meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) and other events, as well as promoting smart tourism initiatives.

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