Published: 01:41, August 15, 2023 | Updated: 11:25, August 15, 2023
Govt should reposition Kai Tak Cruise Terminal as tourist draw
By Ho Lok-sang

A basic premise in economic policy is that we should capitalize on all favorable factors that we can and make the most out of every asset that is within our control. This principle is especially relevant when the economy is facing headwinds.

I was therefore quite taken aback to learn of the Kai Tak Cruise Terminal operator’s insistence that since the terminal’s main original purpose was to serve as a home port for ships and a temporary stop before passengers board or disembark, we should not attempt to revitalize the site as a shopping center or a tourist attraction in and of itself.

It is true that tourists from a cruise liner may be traveling with their families and suitcases, and that they may not be interested in shopping or dining at the terminal. However, the Kai Tak Cruise Terminal is a unique site that offers much attraction to both locals and tourists. Revitalizing the site could generate a sizeable source of revenue for both the operator and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government.

Our MTR stations are all built so passengers can enter and exit the network easily, and that of course is the primary purpose. But practically all MTR stations also offer shopping and advertising space. This has proved to be an important alternative source of revenue other than train fares. Similarly, practically all public transport vehicles today also offer advertising.

Under the present contract, The Worldwide Cruise Terminals Consortium pays the government a fixed rent of around HK$13 million ($1.66 million) for the 10-year operation starting in 2012. The government was to receive a percentage of the operator’s gross receipts as rent, which was expected to rise from 7.3 percent to 34 percent as gross receipts rise. For various reasons, these expectations did not materialize, and this was not the fault of the consortium. Last year the consortium was given a five-year extension in the lease agreement until May 2028.

Revitalizing the site could generate a sizeable source of revenue for both the operator and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government

In my view, revitalizing the Kai Tak Cruise Terminal makes perfect sense, given that it occupies such a prime site offering unparalleled views of Victoria Harbour, extending from Lei Yue Mun in the east all the way to the western end, with the Peak and the International Finance Centre in the background.

One blogger, Kate Farr, writing in 2014, described the transportation to and from the terminal thusly: “Getting there from other districts of HK requires more commitment and time than you might like, with your best public transport options being a green minibus from Kowloon Bay MTR, a weekend-only shuttle that runs from Kwun Tong or Ngau Tau Kok MTRs, or a mythical ferry that crosses from North Point pier to Kwun Tong (we tried, and failed to find any info on this at all).”

Ms Farr was able to enjoy lunch at one of the restaurants, and afterwards she and her companions spent time enjoying the rooftop park. “This (23,000-square-meter rooftop park), complete with central lily pond,” she wrote about her “epic journey”, “has been beautifully designed, and — unusually for Hong Kong — there are extensive lawns to sit on, picnic and enjoy the sunshine surrounded by flowers and that stunning harbor view. Ah yes, the view. You’re absolutely spoiled with a full panorama of Victoria Harbour on one side, and a sweeping outlook over eastern Kowloon on the other. The design makes the most of the harbor, with plenty of seating areas and shaded canopies to enjoy, and there are long, gently curved pavements that are crying out for a bit of scooter action.”

There is no doubt that the site has huge potential as a tourist destination in and of itself and as a fantastic hangout for locals. If the floor space is not really enough to be turned into a major shopping center, we can use it for artistic exhibitions or galleries related to art and boutique shops offering cultural or artistic souvenirs for tourists.

Given that fast ferries that take people to Cheung Chau island can carry up to 400 passengers, and that the ordinary ferries can even take 1200 to 1700 passengers, if such ferries can connect the cruise terminal to Tsim Sha Tsui and to Wanchai, both locals and tourists would flock to the Kai Tak Cruise Terminal. This will vastly improve the chances for leasing the dining and shopping/gallery spaces. Advertising incomes will also follow. Reinvigorating the Kai Tak Cruise Terminal is the necessary step to sustainability of the terminal.

Paul Chan Mo-po, the financial secretary, last week revised Hong Kong’s growth this year, from 3.5 to 5.5 percent, to 4 to 5 percent. This year’s expansion will be mainly driven by retail sales and tourism. Both geopolitical and external economic conditions imply that our exports will continue to be weak. Indeed, that is what the July purchasing managers index, at 49.4, is telling us. Revitalizing the Kai Tak Cruise Terminal must not wait until we have built new infrastructure. The SAR government’s recent effort to improve traffic connections is a good start that deserves applause. But much more needs to be done.

The author is director of the Pan Sutong Shanghai-Hong Kong Economic Policy Research Institute, Lingnan University.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.