Is Hong Kong reclaiming its crown as Asia’s premier cruise hub?

Alex Smith takes a closer look at the city’s strong post-pandemic recovery

Is Hong Kong reclaiming its crown as Asia’s premier cruise hub?

Hong Kong Tourism Board

Cruise lines will make more than 160 cruise calls in Hong Kong during 2023

By Alex Smith |

Hong Kong’s East-meets-West culture, varied culinary landscape, exciting arts scene and welcoming locals have long drawn tourists to the city, and more than 55 million of them visited in 2019. The city’s ideal position within Asia also made it an attractive hub at the centre of the region’s burgeoning cruising industry, drawing in both regional and international cruise lines. 

However, as with the rest of the world, the pandemic brought tourism to a standstill in the city. The city’s industry has taken time to regain its previous strength, but tourism surged in 2023. Over four million people visited Hong Kong in August alone, taking the total tourist arrivals in the first eight months of the year to 20 million. The Southeast Asia source market has recovered the fastest, with arrivals from the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam surpassing pre-pandemic levels. The number of travellers from mainland China has also been strong, recovering to about 90 per cent of the pre-pandemic amount. 

Hong Kong’s resurgent tourism sector has also buoyed the city’s cruise industry. An increasing number of cruise lines have committed to deploying their ships in the city or including it within their itineraries. Resorts World Cruises’ Resorts World One began a year-round deployment until April 2024, while Royal Caribbean International’s Spectrum of the Seas will spend winter 2024-2025 sailing from the city. Celebrity Cruises’ Celebrity Solstice will also make several turnaround calls in Hong Kong in winter 2023-2024 and winter 2024-2025. 

By the end of 2023, 18 cruise lines will have made more than 160 cruise calls in Hong Kong.  

“With this encouraging rebound, the Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) has made it a priority to recalibrate its cruise strategy to sustain long-term growth in a bid to reclaim the city’s status as the cruise hub of Asia,” says Kenneth Wong, general manager of MICE and cruise at HKTB. 

In a testimony to its position as an important cruise centre, the HKTB successfully pitched for the regional industry showcase event, Seatrade Cruise Asia Pacific, to return for the first time in four years. The event took place on 24-26 October 2023 at the JW Marriott Hotel Hong Kong and focused on the theme of ‘Rebuilding Asia Cruising Together’. During the event, the HKTB was able to pursue a multitude of initiatives to entice more cruise brands to deploy more ships in Hong Kong, with its role as host signalling the city’s openness to the industry. 

Delegates were able to enjoy first-hand the energy and experiences the city has to offer in range of pre- and post-event familiarisation tours and social programmes. Visitors were also invited by the HKTB to an outdoor gastronomic experience at the city’s Wine & Dine Festival.  

Hong Kong’s location within the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area also offers a range of opportunities for cruise companies.  With the unique advantages of the city’s position in the Greater Bay Area, cruise companies are able to develop products targeted at visitors from cities in Southern Mainland China. The city is connected to the region via the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge and the High Speed Rail, meaning that cruise lines can more easily attract guests from the 86 million people in the wider Greater Bay Area market.  

The HKTB has capitalised on this position by forming a partnership with the port of Shekou to develop a Greater Bay Area itinerary for Zhao Shang Yi Dun, the first cruise ship operated by China Merchants Viking Cruises, a joint venture between China Merchants Shekou and Viking Cruises. The partnership will help to add shore experiences and expand passenger sourcing for the cruise line while bringing more cruise visits to Hong Kong. The brand has committed to making multiple calls during the 2023-2024 winter season. 

“The HKTB continues to collaborate and communicate closely with cruise line partners to support deployment and operation in the city,” says Wong. “Funding support, shore excursion recommendations and high-profile welcome ceremonies have been lined up to help our partners promote cruise travel in source markets worldwide and put Hong Kong in the spotlight.” 

To cater for the expected increase in cruise tourism, Hong Kong has invested in improving the infrastructure around the Kai Tak Cruise Terminal. In 2025, the city will complete construction of the Central Kowloon Route, which will connect Yau Ma Tei with the Kai Tak Development Area in Kowloon Bay and shorten the journey from the cruise terminal to key tourist districts. The journey time to the West Kowloon district, for example, will drop from 30 minutes to just five. 

New landmark venues are also being built in the Kai Tak Development Area, close to the Kai Tak Cruise Terminal. The Kai Tak Sports Park is set to become the largest sports venue in Hong Kong and offers a variety of sports and park facilities, open spaces, and retail and dining outlets. AIRSIDE, meanwhile, is a large shopping mall that officially opened in October, featuring a range of entertainment and leisure venues. 

The city’s vibrant range of attractions are constantly being updated and added to as well. Water World Ocean Park, an all-weather indoor and outdoor water park featuring five zones with slides, wave pools and an indoor river, opened in September 2021, and was followed in November that year by M+, Asia’s first global museum of contemporary visual culture. Hong Kong Palace Museum, home to over 900 historic treasures from the Palace Museum in Beijing, opened its doors in July 2022, and the world’s first Frozen-themed land, World of Frozen, is set to open in November 2023 at Hong Kong Disneyland. 

New events are also being created to add to the city’s appeal. From July to August 2023, the Harbour Chilli Carnival brought live music shows, street performances, X-Games exhibitions and pyrotechnics to the waterfront promenade. The Night Vibes Hong Kong campaign, meanwhile, will bring a range of night-time entertainment, arts, cultural and other events to the city from mid-autumn until early 2024. 

Time-honoured traditional events are also returning. The Cheung Chau Bun Carnival in May saw participants compete in the Bun Scrambling Competition and the Climbing Carnival, while the Hong Kong International Dragon Boat Races returned to Victoria Harbour after a four-year hiatus on 24-25 June. In September, the quaint neighbourhood of Tai Hang came alive during the Mid-Autumn Festival with the Fire Dragon Dance, which involved over 300 performers carrying a glowing dragon through the streets in keeping with a tradition dating back to the 19th century.  

Hong Kong provides an exciting destination for cruise guests, whether they are looking to immerse themselves in the city’s rich past or wanting to become a part of the vision of its future. Cruise lines looking to bring their guests to experience everything the city has to offer will also find a valuable partner in the HKTB. 

“The HKTB is committed to working closely with global cruise industry stakeholders to create once-in-a-lifetime cruise experiences and expand the customer base for the entire industry,” concludes Wong.   

This article was first published in the 2024 issue of  Cruise & Ferry Itinerary Planning. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed. Subscribe to Cruise & Ferry Itinerary Planning for FREE to get the next issue delivered directly to your inbox. 

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