Exclusive | Hong Kong tourism plan to revamp Kai Tak’s role in sector, improve cruise terminal, culture chief says

Hong Kong’s tourism landscape plan will recalibrate Kai Tak’s role in the sector, the city’s culture chief said, adding that authorities will also study how to improve the area’s cruise terminal and adjust plans based on developments in the region.

In an exclusive interview with the Post, Culture, Sports and Tourism Secretary Kevin Yeung Yun-hung said the authority may put the rights to operate the Kai Tak Cruise Terminal up for auction after the existing contract expires in 2028.

“We have to wait and see if everyone is happy [the operator’s] overall performance until then,” he said on Friday, without giving his own assessment. “How will the audience rate them?”

Culture, Sports and Tourism Secretary Kevin Yeung says the original plans for the Kai Tak Cruise Terminal should be adjusted based on the development of the area over time. Photo: Edmond So

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

Tourists who arrived in the city on August 4 complained of long waits for taxis and other public transport, prompting authorities to temporarily increase bus services and offer incentives to taxi drivers.

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But the fiasco also led to further scrutiny and criticism of the port and its underutilized facilities, as well as urban planning in the wider Kai Tak area.

The Worldwide Cruise Terminals Consortium – a tripartite partnership between Worldwide Flight Services Holding SA, Royal Caribbean Cruises and Shun Tak Holdings – has been granted a five-year 2022 lease extension for the port, effective June 1.

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

Tourism Commissioner Vivian Sum says authorities will not rule out bidding for the rights to operate the terminal again in 2028. Photo: Edmond So

“At the time, there was very little interest from the market because no one knew when the pandemic would end. But we predicted that once it was facilitated, the terminal would need to be launched immediately.

“But regardless of the consortium’s performance, we would not rule out bidding for the driving rights again in 2028, as government regulations require it.”

Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu in his policy address in October unveiled the “Hong Kong Tourism Industry 2.0 Project”, which includes the Kai Tak area.

The city leader also announced an action plan to develop the cruise tourism economy, with further details expected in the first half of next year.

Tourism chief Yeung said authorities will study how to improve the port at Kai Tak’s current landscape, which has changed significantly from when the terminal was first built, as part of the government’s plan and action plan.

“When we planned the terminal, we decided that it would simply be a port of entry and exit for visitors because then the surrounding areas were reserved for commercial use such as hotels and shopping malls,” he said.

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“But these plans need to be adjusted according to the actual development of the greater Kai Tak area, so we have to look.”

Yeung said the area is no longer exclusive to tourists as a number of private housing developments have been built, as well as the Kai Tak Sports Park, which is due to open by the end of 2024.

The Kai Tak area has undergone several rounds of urban planning changes since the old airport was completely closed in 1998. Since then, plans for a hotel have never materialized as developers have abandoned tender bids, while proposals for a monorail line have also been shelved aside.

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

Yeung said on Friday that a new strategic tourism committee, which he will chair, will study how to develop the city’s tourism market by targeting a more diverse set of tourists, rather than focusing solely on visitors from mainland China.

According to Tourism Board statistics, visitors from across the border account for about 80 percent of the total number of tourists in the city, both before and after the pandemic.

After the political address, the Bureau of Culture, Sports and Tourism said it would develop distinctive tourism products such as green and cultural tours.

He added that he would also focus on growing the cruise tourism sector, expanding efforts to cater for meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) and other events, as well as promoting smart tourism initiatives.

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