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Hong Kong eyes boost in cruise ship traffic after mainland China eases visa rules for foreigners arriving at ports

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“As Asia’s cruise hub, Hong Kong attracts visitors from around the world to come for cruise travel. They would stay in Hong Kong before or after their voyages to experience our tourism offerings and bring economic benefits to the city.”

The Greater Bay Area aims to link nine cities in Guangdong province, Hong Kong and Macau – an area spanning 56,000 sq km – to create an economic powerhouse by 2035.

From Wednesday, tour groups consisting of two or more foreigners arriving on the mainland via cruise ships can travel visa-free for up to 15 days, given they are received by or have had their itineraries organised by Chinese agencies.

The mainland’s 13 cities with cruise ports are Tianjin, Dalian, Shanghai, Lianyungang, Wenzhou, Zhoushan, Xiamen, Qingdao, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Beihai, Haikou and Sanya.

The Spectrum of the Seas arrives at the Kai Tak Cruise Terminal in August last year. Photo: Dickson Lee

It is an extension of a pilot programme launched in 2016 that allowed visa-free entry at the Shanghai Port International Cruise Terminal, which was suspended during the pandemic but resumed last year.

Tourism lawmaker Perry Yiu Pak-leung said the new policy would not take cruise ship traffic away from Hong Kong but rather bolster it.

“Increasing the amount and variety of cities that international cruises can dock at will be good for everyone,” he said. “It offers more route choices to travellers as well.”

Given the role Hong Kong’s airport played in global airline travel, more “fly and cruise” travellers might head to the city before they set out to visit other Chinese coastal cities, he said.

“In the past, cruise ships that docked in Hong Kong tended to have routes involving other countries, like Taiwan, South Korea and Japan up to the north … maybe Shanghai as well,” he said.

“But now, they can make many stops along the country, which can really help solidify our position as a multi-stop travel destination [within the country].”

Hong Kong’s Kai Tak Cruise Terminal made headlines in August last year when Royal Caribbean International’s Spectrum of the Seas returned to Hong Kong for the first time in more than a year, with tourists complaining of long waits for public transport out of the port.

The fiasco led to further criticism of urban planning in the wider Kai Tak area, including the district’s overall transport system, why the port only had one access road and its underused facilities.

Yiu said while the transport problems had “largely been solved”, challenges pertaining to the wider area were the result of “inconsistencies” with development.

“The terminal was built and being used long before the surrounding area was developed into a space suited for visitors,” he said, adding he expected the problems would be solved once surrounding areas underwent further development.

Secretary for Culture, Sports and Tourism Kevin Yeung Yun-hung told the Post in December authorities had plans to recalibrate Kai Tak’s role in Hong Kong, as the area had changed greatly compared to when the cruise terminal was first proposed and built.

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