The operator behind Hong Kong’s “cruises to nowhere” is seeking negotiations with the government to lift Covid-19 curbs on capacity after receiving an overwhelming response from the public in its first month of voyages.
Kent Zhu Fuming, president of Genting Cruise Lines, told the Post he was planning to submit a proposal to the government in two weeks on easing restrictions, insisting that the company’s “seacation” product provided a lifeline for the battered tourism industry.
Zhu said since the Genting Dream cruise ship set sail at the end of July, the line had run about 15 voyages attracting a total of nearly 20,000 passengers.
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In an interview with the Post on Tuesday, he also said the operator planned to make inroads into the emerging Greater Bay Area market.
He said while operating capacity was halved under existing regulations, the company had seen a take-up rate of more than 90 per cent on its packages.
In Hong Kong, Genting Cruise Lines is currently the only operator for such trips, with Royal Caribbean Cruises expected to enter the market in October.
The Genting Dream cruise ship, served by about 1,000 crew members, sails the high seas three times per week without stopping at any ports of call to minimise Covid-19 risks.
Zhu said half of passengers on board in the past month comprised families on holiday, while the others included expatriates, groups of friends, and participants in corporate events or celebrations.
He said the company aimed to increase capacity to 75 per cent by October, and to resume full cruises by the end of the year, pending talks with authorities.
Zhu maintained the voyages offered struggling travel agents an array of products to sell to clients, stimulating business in the sector.
To revive business, Genting Cruise Lines is also eyeing expansion into the bay area project, which is an ambitious plan by China to integrate Hong Kong, Macau and nine mainland Chinese cities into a technological and economic powerhouse.
“We are already planning for Greater Bay Area cruises and seacations. We need to think ahead with a pragmatic approach,” Zhu said.
Current Hong Kong regulations dictate that in addition to running at half capacity, cruise operators must also ensure all passengers and crew are fully vaccinated and tested for Covid-19 before departure.
All but three of Hong Kong’s border checkpoints have been closed since the pandemic hit last year. Quarantine arrangements for air arrivals to the city are also among the world’s strictest. Cruises to nowhere are currently seen as an easy avenue for Hongkongers desperate for a change of scenery.
Zhu said at least 25 per cent of clients were returning customers, some for the third time, adding that one guest had even requested a month’s stay on the ship.
Tourism lawmaker Yiu Si-wing said authorities could agree to relaxing restrictions on cruises if operators could maintain hygiene standards and abide by strict Covid-19 control measures.
“Under current circumstances in which people don’t have any choices for travelling overseas, the cruises to nowhere could serve as a good alternative, but only for the short term,” he added.
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