Industry buoyed by relaxed visas for cruisers
The city’s tourism industry has welcomed the implementation of a new policy that allows mainland tourists to visit Taiwan, Japan and South Korea altogether if they board a cruise ship in Hong Kong and travel in a group. The policy was one of the initiatives unveiled by the central government in June 2012 to foster closer economic ties between Hong Kong, the mainland and Taiwan. The National Tourism Administration issued a notice on Thursday outlining the details.
Mainland tourists will be permitted to join a cruise ship in Hong Kong sailing to Japan or South Korea as long as the ship makes a port of call at any Taiwan port. They can return to the mainland directly from Japan or South Korea.
Apart from existing regulations, other limitations will apply — all tourists must travel in a group organized by a tour operator qualified to host Taiwan tours. They must complete the trip in the same group and hold valid documents for entry to all places.
Operators must still file applications with their respective provincial administration. The National Tourism Administration will only green-light no less than 100 tourists from each province for one cruise sailing.
The Hong Kong Tourism Board welcomed the announcement. Chairman Peter Lam Kin-ngok said he believes the policy will draw more mainland cruisers and boost the city’s competitiveness for cruise lines.
Once tour operators on the mainland unveil related products, the board plans to launch marketing campaigns for mainland visitors. The board also hopes the city would step up cooperation with Taiwan and other nearby ports to promote regional cruise travel.
Tony Wu, director of the Taiwan Visitors Association in Hong Kong, said they anticipate new opportunities from the policy, given that cruising is gaining popularity among mainland residents.
Travel Industry Council Chairman Michael Wu Siu- ying said the measure is unique because mainland residents were required to return home after a visit to Taiwan. “It is great news for Hong Kong to promote itself as a homeport for cruise lines,” he said.
Wu expected the first packaged tour to sail in the second half of 2014 and says the industry will have no difficulty finding 100 cruisers from a mainland province or city, based on previous experience.
Cruise itineraries can often be booked two years in advance of sailing and few confirmed itineraries fit into the routing criteria set out in the policy. The 116,000ton Diamond Princess, for instance, will sail from Hong Kong to two ports in Japan, with a stop at Keelung, Taiwan, in the month of April 2014 and 2015.
The 91,000- ton Celebrity Millennium will also call at Keelung for its April sailing from Hong Kong, before it continues to ports in Japan and South Korea, and disembarks in Shanghai. It will also run the itinerary in 2015.