With Hong Kong’s cruise restart just round the corner, Travel Weekly Asia spoke with Jeff Bent, managing director of Worldwide Cruise Terminals, which operates Hong Kong’s Kai Tak Cruise Terminal.
What’s your first reaction when the green light for cruise restart was given?
We were delighted to get the final go-ahead for the cruise restart. We are excited to start up again after so many months, so we also had a lot of time to prepare and see what’s being done at other places around the world.
On one hand, we stepped up the sanitary measures inside the terminal for Covid-19 detection and prevention. On the other hand, we’ve also seen the Hong Kong government go down the minimal risk route, similar to the US – if you’re 95% vaccinated you don’t have any special requirements to follow. For Hong Kong, all crew and adult passengers have to be vaccinated and tested 48 hours before the journey. Based on that, we have a very safe set of conditions for cruise restart.
With this level of inoculation and testing it will be very hard for something to go wrong in the terminal environment.
And we’re ready! We have regular meetings with all the parties involved, going through how the ship will be positioned, the passenger flows, the baggage flows, the provisioning flows. It’s not really very much different from what we did in the past, so everybody knows what to do on the day of restart.
Were there any major changes before and after Covid-19 at Kai Tak?
Some changes made at the terminal before the outbreak turned out to be a happy coincidence. Our HVAC system already has UV-C sterilisation throughout, while we changed all the washroom facilities — water, soap, towel — to be touch free in December 2019; it just seemed like a good idea at the time. We have also invested in portable UV steriliser lamps and better temperature sensors, so we’ve taken a number of steps to make sure the terminal environment is the safest.
That said, a lot of what’s driving the policy is really what happens on board the ship, that’s where people are very concerned. Are we going to be stuck on the ship if there are cases onboard? That’s where a lot of the government policy is targeted at, starting with 50% occupancy, social distancing, contact tracing via devices.
For the terminal, it’s a matter of how we can support these initiatives. For instance, one of Hong Kong’s requirements is that people need to use an app to show when they enter and leave the terminal and ship, so we are coordinating with the government to align on who scans what at which location in the terminal — just a lot of details to walk through.
The overall approach is that with this level of inoculation and testing it will be very hard for something to go wrong in the terminal environment, which is all mask on anywhere in accordance with Hong Kong’s mandatory mask-on policy for indoors.
Developments including new roads and a major subway line connection have greatly enhanced accessibility to Kai Tak Cruise Terminal.
What’s new at Kai Tak cruise terminal that passengers and visitors can look forward to?
The cruise terminal is in a new district, so we are glad to see the development in the district has continued apace despite Covid. Some roads have been finished, and a major subway line was completed just last month, so that will make it easier for people to come to the cruise terminal, particularly for locals. Kai Tak is in a fairly central location, but the district itself was almost untouched since the old airport relocated in 1998. In the last couple of years more roads have come up in this district and the rest of developments are now coming up bit by bit, so it’s a vast improvement.
How’s the response from Hong Kong market towards cruise restart so far?
I think they’re pleased at having a nice alternative to a hotel staycation which was the only option for the last year and a half. We hope the cruise restart is just the beginning of greater things to come. Many in the trade are very keen for the borders to open to more places, including potential travel bubbles with overseas locations and the boundary with mainland China to open up travel within the Greater Bay Area in particular – that’s where the bulk our visitors came from in the past.
What’s your outlook for Asia's cruise industry?
Our best hope is to gradually expand outwards, from one-city open seas sailings or domestic-only operations to more regional and eventually to more trans-regional type operations. If this year we’re seeing a return to local cruising only, we hope next year there will be more regional cruising and after that round the world deployments. I think it will take another two years until 2023 for cruising to get back.
Are there any silver linings from the pandemic?
We really appreciate the efforts from the first movers like Taiwan and Singapore to show that cruise restart can be done. The pandemic has also inspired a whole new demographics of cruisers, a lot of people who might not have tried it before but are trying it now. Most people who take a cruise enjoy it and will come back.