The operator of the Kai Tak Cruise Terminal said on Wednesday that it will take between three to six months to bring cruises back to Hong Kong, with many major operators already setting itineraries that bypassed the SAR in the months and years ahead.
Jeff Bent, managing director of Worldwide Cruise Terminals, told RTHK's Hong Kong Today programme that only Royal Caribbean was still here and pushing to get so-called 'cruises-to-nowhere' restarted.
The mini-cruises, which start and end in Hong Kong, have been suspended since February, but travel industry representatives met health officials on Tuesday to discuss their possible resumption.
However, Bent told RTHK's Samantha Butler that restarting cruises to other destinations would be more complicated and operators would need transparent Covid policies, including details of when voyages would be suspended after cases are detected, before operating from Hong Kong again.
"The rest of the world basically treats Covid as the flu now and, in general, the only requirements related to Covid are either you are fully vaccinated or you take a test before embarking, and there aren't any other conditions for sailing," Bent said.
"So the cruise lines that went from being in a very fluid position now have itineraries planned out for their ships for the next several years. So it'll be much harder for us to bring a ship to Hong Kong now, especially if our policies are not aligned with the rest of the world."
Cruise tourism grew strongly in Hong Kong prior to the pandemic and the 2019 social unrest. A paper to the Legislative Council in 2019 said the number of passengers passing through the SAR's cruise terminals grew from 190,000 in 2013 to 900,000 in 2017.
However international cruises have been suspended since early 2020 after high-profile Covid outbreaks involving cruise ships. One major operator, Genting Hong Kong, filed for liquidation in January.