Sailing on a knife edge as Genting starts Hong Kong ‘seacations’

By BLOOMBERG

HONG KONG • Genting Hong Kong Ltd, the operator of giant cruise ships, is piling into the trip-to-nowhere game in its home market, offering “seacations” to Hongkongers who’ve been stuck in the city because of onerous Covid-related travel restrictions. 

Genting Dream will set sail this evening. Destination: not very far. 

That might be enough for locals wanting to escape typically tiny apartments or try something other than a weekend in a hotel, the main getaway option since strict quarantine rules put the brakes on international travel. Bookings have been encouraging, according to Genting, with three sailings scheduled per week offering two- or three-night packages. 

The Genting Dream cruise ship berthed in Hong Kong on July 28. 

Hong Kong has come much later than the likes of Singapore and Tai- wan to the cruise-to-nowhere trend, with the government announcing in late May that cruises could resume at the end of July after being suspended since February 2020. 

Genting Dream will journey into international waters — allowing its casino and duty-free shops to open — but won’t come ashore anywhere other than Hong Kong. 

In keeping with government requirements, capacity is capped at 50% and passengers need to be fully vaccinated and submit negative Covid test results. 

Given the size of the ship, it will still host more than 1,000 people per cruise, along with about 900 staff. There’ll be a 12-hour turnaround for cleaning when the vessel returns to port, compared with three or four hours normally. 

Stretching 335m, Genting Dream is longer than the Eiffel Tower in height. The German-made ship now sits at Kai Tak Cruise Terminal, a place so empty it’s reminiscent of zombie horror flick “28 Days Later”, which is also the length of time travellers returning to Hong Kong from virus hotspots must spend in quarantine and home monitoring. 

After baggage and security checks at the terminal, passengers will encounter temperature-monitoring machines and hand-sanitiser dispensers before boarding. They’ll also wear wristbands and contact-tracing devices. 

The abundance of caution reflects Hong Kong’s approach to battling Covid and an eagerness on Gent- ing’s part to stick to the rules and make the cruises work. 

The company, part of Malaysian billionaire Lim Kok Thay’s Genting Group, warned in May about its ability to continue as a going concern and posted a US$1.7 billion (RM7.2 billion) loss last year. Gent- ing Hong Kong has since said it has access to new loan facilities to shore up capital. 

Genting already resumed cruise operations in Taiwan and Singapore last year, but those haven’t been without challenges as both places battle a resurgence in virus cases. Cruises on the Explorer Dream have been suspended from May to Aug 15 due to Taiwan’s outbreak, while passenger capacity on the World Dream in Singapore has been temporarily cut to 25% from 50% and people must eat in their cabins. That ship also had to curtail one cruise earlier this month after someone tested positive. 

Genting Dream has a clinic with one doctor and three nurses as well as a ship sanitation officer. Other facilities include a rooftop swimming pool with six waterslides, a zipline, climbing wall and more than a dozen restaurants and bars. A meal at its Silk Road Chinese restaurant during a tour on Wednesday evening featured dishes including chilled razor clam, fish maw, braised sea cucumber and hairy crab. 

The plushest rooms are two 224- sq-m “villas” with views over the ship’s bow and private jacuzzies, though those are off-limits due to Covid rules. 

The jacuzzies beside the main swimming pools are cordoned off too — another reminder that cruise holidays may never be the same again. For now, though, it’s a matter of sailing a fine line between keeping Covid at bay and bringing the punters in.