When Hong Kong’s much anticipated cruise terminal opens – scheduled for mid-2013 – it aims to be an instant icon, and should have serious business events appeal. Featuring the striking contemporary architectural signature of its draftsman, Sir Norman Foster, ?it will boast expansive views of Victoria Harbour and both the Kowloon and Hong Kong Island waterfronts from its interior and large rooftop garden. A multipurpose stadium, waterfront promenade and park are all on the drawing board, and it will become the centrepiece of a new CBD – to include a new nine-kilometre elevated monorail line with 12 stations – with the whole project scheduled for completion in 2023.
Artist's impression of Kai Tak cruise terminal
The Hong Kong Government is investing some HK$8 billion (US$1.03 billion) to build the new cruise terminal. Worldwide Cruise Terminals Consortium is the operator, comprising Worldwide Flight Services (WFS), Royal Caribbean International and Neo Crown (owned by Shun Tak Holdings). WFS arranges regular events at the private jet terminal at Singapore’s airport, while Neo Crown has a MICE organising department with experience in Macau venues.
The rooftop gardens will comprise approximately 30,000 square feet (2,787 sqm) of attractive events space – the Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) has been enthusing about the multimedia possibilities of this space for business events. Mostly open, there will be small covered areas, with plenty of space for marquees and canopies.
Some events operators express optimism about vessels based at the terminal creating new possibilities for useable space. "The biggest problem we come across in Hong Kong is the lack of venues," says Michelle Lam of Spoilt, a Hong-Kong-based company specialising in ìexperience giftsî and events. "As land is at such a premium, it is difficult to find venues, which are generous in size or affordable for event budgets. I look forward to the opening of the new cruise terminal, which will surely open up [more] cruise ships as potential new event venues."
Lam has not used such floating spaces yet, but is excited by the potential. "Cruise ships are a very attractive option for incentive trips, and we have already seen growth in interest among local corporates. Cruise ships are a natural fit for MICE trips as they are very easy to scale. Incentive trips for large corporates can host groups of up to 500 at one time – it’s important that venues can easily scale up to this number."
Kowloon East transformation
In keeping with global urban patterns, regenerated areas such as the new terminal should cause a ripple effect of development around them. The transformation of Kowloon East already started, since the 2010 promise of a string of new MTR underground train stations – part of a Hong Kong Island to Sha Tin link due to appear before 2015 – will recognise the potential of more event spaces. ìThe new cruise terminal will be accompanied by infrastructure and property developments that will revitalise the area,î surmises Lam.
At the moment in Kowloon East, there are some interesting venues like Cattle Depot Artist Village, which is a heritage slaughterhouse converted into a chic area hosting artist studios," she adds. "It’s also a performance venue, but it’s difficult to get to. For large-scale events, we have KITEC [Kowloon Bay International Trade & Exhibition Centre], which can host conventions and large meetings. From Kowloon East, you are also close to Sai Kung which offers a range of outdoor recreational activities such as hiking and water sports, and an authentic Hong Kong seafood dining experience. This will be attractive to visitors coming to Hong Kong on cruise trips."
Gilly Wong, general manager – MICE & Cruise at HKTB, agrees that the new cruise terminal is an integral part of the government’s plan for the area. "Kowloon East will become an integrated community, with business, tourism and infrastructure uses,î she predicts. "The area has always provided living culture experiences for tourists – from the picturesque Chinese Tang Dynasty-style Nan Lian Garden in Diamond Hill to open-air markets [Temple Street, Ladies Market, jade and flower markets] to glamorous shopping malls. Kowloon City [metres from the Kai Tak site] is home to many family-run eateries."
Like Lam, Wong enthuses about KITEC in Kowloon Bay (formerly known as HITEC). "It is a top-notch, multifaceted venue for exhibitions, conventions, banquets, meetings and concerts of all sizes," she says. "It has 8,300 sqm of exhibition and convention space, 17 function rooms and a 702-seat auditorium."
Cattle Depot Artist Village
Cruise hub of Asia
There are a few other port cities in the region vying for the "cruise hub of Asia" tag, including Singapore and Shanghai. Wong, though, is positive about the territory’s advantages, largely due to geography. "Hong Kong is well positioned to capture the growth of the cruise industry and become a cruise hub," she says. "[It] has always been considered the gateway to Mainland China and other Asia destinations. Hong Kong is within five hours’ flying time of over half the world’s population with excellent flight connectivity."
There are other attractive assets for the cruise industry as well. "Hong Kong provides visa-free entry to more than 170 countries," adds Wong. "Victoria Harbour has deep water with no air draft [head room] limit – this terminal will be able to serve the largest cruise vessels in the world, and provide world-class service to passengers."
Total cruise passenger throughput in 2011 was 702,017, a 6.3 per cent increase on 2010’s figures. Mainland China was the key source market, while other significant markets include the US, Canada and Europe.
Existing hotels nearby, such as Regal Oriental Hotel, Harbour Grand, Kowloon and Harbour Plaza 8 Degrees all boast several function areas, and new spaces will soon be arriving not far from the terminal (see New faces section). However, Ivy Sung Yuen-yee, travel account director at events organiser Pacific World Hong Kong, is curious about what other options may arrive. She is not enamoured by the existing options. "Distinctive attractions at Kai Tak and in Kowloon East will depend on future investments and developments," she says. ìIf it remains as it is at present then [visitors] will still travel to Tsim Sha Tsui and other popular areas. I believe many more shopping malls and restaurants will open up when the terminal has launched."
Sung expects Hong Kong’s business events industry to benefit from the new facility from next year.
"Hopefully it’s a new source of business for us; meeting and incentive groups coming here may like to do a cruise before or after a stay. We hope the new terminal will bring new attractions and be able to generate more programmes using this new element."
Until now, Pacific World Hong Kong has organised only a few cruise ship events. ìThe issues are that we cannot confirm logistics well in advance, as we won’t know which pier will be used until the very last minute,î she says. ìSources for relevant information are not efficient enough for us to make all necessary plans. For flights, the Airport Authority has a good website and general information contact line available for arrivals, but there is no [facility] for providing such information for cruise ships at present. Hopefully, the new cruise terminal will be equipped with ?such support.î
"The opening of Hong Kong Kai Tak Cruise Terminal in 2013 will provide companies and conference organisers with a new option for consideration," says Arthur Choy, MICE manager, Lotus Tours. "Currently, many large direct marketing and insurance companies are considering cruises for company travel and conferences, Or as a venue for exhibitions. Plus, many companies do offer cruise trips as a reward incentive.
"In the past few years, we have arranged a number of conferences and incentive tours for large corporations on cruise ships. The advantage of travelling on a cruise ship is it can accommodate several hundred people at the same time. However, the lack of large conference facilities on ships make them unable to meet the needs of some corporations."
Cruise operators get in on the act
Cruise operators are enjoying the pre-opening buzz and expect a huge spike of interest for onboard business events. Crystal Cruises, with established incentive programmes for individual and group rewards, is cost-efficient – inclusive pricing provides complimentary meeting spaces with AV equipment. Marnie Whipple, Asia-Pacific regional sales manager, notes: "Crystal Cruises caters to clients’ wishes – customising branded menus or private shore excursions. Minimum group size is 12 guests and we can accommodate up to a full ship charter. Generally, incentive groups are three to seven days."
As cruising awareness grows, so will business events opportunities within the industry. But support is key, says Whipple: "Any must-visit destination needs to consider the basic needs of MICE and other groups, focusing on transportation, easy movement of guests, appearance, and development of various facilities that inspire guests to experience the areas around Kai Tak and Kowloon East. Clear communication in the form of multilingual signage, and hosts assisting guests with where to go and what to see, will enhance the perception of the new terminal and further MICE groups spending timeÖ and money. The most successful MICE experiences are those that require the least amount of transportation time; the closer general needs such as food and entertainment are, the better the experience."
Silversea is also a regional leader in highly customised on-board special events. "MICE has always been a significant element of our sales, especially in Asia where cruises of under seven days have been more prevalent and suited to the needs of this sector," explains Melvyn Yap, regional director, Asia. "We are keen to nurture MICE business further."
Corporate and incentive travel clients enjoy an all-inclusive Silversea fare, covering all meals, drinks, entertainment, 24-hour butler service, all-suite accommodation and multi-destination itineraries. Conference packages include conferencing theatre use and group restaurant space. Popular stop-offs include Phuket, Penang, Kuala Lumpur, Sumatra ?and Malacca.
Yap is sure the new Kowloon East development will offer good alternative venues for meeting planners. "Looking back toward Victoria Harbour and the Peak from this vantage point is a fantastic view to offer our guests, with cocktails on the roof or other events," he says.
Since the introduction of Costa Cruises’ Asian routings in 2006, corporate event group volume has grown significantly. "We see enormous potential in the Asia-Pacific region," says Eunice Lee, senior marketing and PR manager at Costa Cruises. "Our ‘Business Relaxed’ formula gives the whole fleet specially equipped areas with advanced technology for presentations, conferences and business meetings. Each ship holds satellite internet connection throughout, and we can personalise meeting spaces, restaurant areas, daily programmes, menus and on-shore excursions." Cruise fares include accommodation, full board, 24-hour room service, gym, spa and entertainment access, and Costa ships can accommodate groups from 30 to 3,000 delegates.
Lee sees the new terminal as an exciting development. "Any increase in berthing capacity will be greatly welcomed by Costa Cruises," she says. "Hong Kong continues to play a key role in Costa Cruises’ Asia sailings, and the new terminal will support this goal. We continue to experience greater volume of enquiries as the industry increasingly looks to cruises as a suitable option to host MICE events. The budget is easily controlled, the event and entertainment is contained under one roof, and satisfaction rates can be easily evaluated. The new terminal will help to reinforce this message."
Choy of Lotus Tours sums up the upbeat mood: "The terminal will help Hong Kong strengthen its position as a regional MICE hub. As well as international cruise companies with Asia headquarters already set up in Hong Kong, another cruise company I know of is considering developing a cruise line using Hong Kong as the first leg of its route, to attract Mainland travellers to begin their cruise journeys from here to other cities in Asia and around the world."
Scheduled to open in the second half of 2012, the 359-room Crowne Plaza Hong Kong Kowloon East (www.ichotelsgroup.com/crowneplaza) and the 300-room Holiday Inn Express Hong Kong Kowloon East (www.hiexpress.com) bring business luxury and value for money, respectively, to one location. These hotels will be directly atop Tseung Kwan O MTR station, 20 minutes away from the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre (HKCEC) and 45 minutes’ drive to Hong Kong International Airport. Tseung Kwan O is midway between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon.
Restaurants, banqueting halls and a 30-metre outdoor swimming pool terrace at the Crowne Plaza will provide usable event spaces; 2,400 sqm of dedicated function space will allow up to 1,250 guests for a sit-down banquet and 2,000 guests for receptions. The Grand Ballroom will be one of the largest in Hong Kong, with a 6.75-metre-high ceiling and 1,030 sqm of configurable, pillar-less space. Its 263 sqm Sky Garden will offer outdoor venue potential. A professional meetings team will support all aspects of each event.
Meanwhile, pentahotel Kowloon (www.pentahotels.com) is due to open in Kowloon East in the second quarter of 2013. This 32-storey, 720-room hotel anticipates development earmarked for the Kai Tak area. Its F&B outlets are hoped to make it a neighbourhood hub, a few minutes’ walk from Diamond Hill MTR station. It will also have large multi-configuration function rooms and an outdoor pool deck.
AT A GLANCE: KAI TAK CRUISE TERMINAL
Location: Runway of the former Hong Kong International Airport, Kai Tak, Kowloon East.
Immediate environment: Kowloon East waterfront, with spectacular Victoria Harbour views.
Scheduled opening date: Mid-2013.
Berthing capability: Two berths.
Proximity to tourist attractions and places of interest: Within easy reach of Chi Lin Nunnery/ Nan Lian Garden, Kowloon Walled City Park and Lei Yue Mun Seafood Bazaar. Nearby is Mega Box in Kowloon Bay, with restaurants and an ice rink, and Wong Tai Sin Temple.
Accessible hotels: Regal Oriental; L’hotel Èlan; Harbour Plaza 8 Degrees; Crowne Plaza Hong Kong Kowloon East and Holiday Inn Express Hong Kong Kowloon East (both scheduled to open late 2012); and pentahotel Kowloon (due to open by mid-2013).
ACCESS: Hong Kong is a major global air hub, with multiple connections throughout Asia-Pacific, Europe, Africa and the US. It is the home port of Cathay Pacific (www.cathaypacific.com) and Dragonair (www.dragonair.com), which has an extensive network within Mainland China.
CLIMATE: October to January is the driest and most pleasant (it can even get cold); May to September is hot and humid, with the chance of thunderstorms and typhoons.
VISA: The majority of nationalities are permitted visa-free entry for periods from 14 to 180 days (exceptions include Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos). For more details, visit the immigration department website at www.immd.gov.hk
LANGUAGE: Cantonese is spoken by the Chinese residents, but English is the business language and is used widely within the tourist and business-related sectors.
tel: +852 2316 1106
PACIFIC WORLD HONG KONG
tel: +852 2991 0856
tel: +852 2882 4881