National | Regional Voices: Okinawa

Okinawa angling to become cruise liner hub, not just waypoint

The Okinawa Times

Okinawa has unveiled a road map to develop the southern island prefecture into a major hub for international cruise ships in East Asia.

With the three-phase scheme, starting this year, the prefectural government is trying to achieve its goal of drawing 2 million cruise tourists from abroad in fiscal 2021 as part of a broader attempt to stimulate the local economy.

“Together with our plan to build a hub for international logistics and other initiatives, I want Okinawa to become a place where people, goods and information from home and abroad accumulate, and make that serve as a growth engine for its economic development,” Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga said at a news conference on March 30 to announce a set of measures to promote cruising.

The project aims to make Okinawa what the prefectural government calls the “Caribbean of Asia,” and will center on improving facilities to expand capacity for receiving cruise ships and passengers, including piers and port terminals, and creating new and attractive tour products.

Starting in 2018, local government officials will more frequently attend conventions and visit cruise ship firms, as well as travel agencies, to collect up-to-date information and at the same time market Okinawa’s charms. The prefecture will also set up a system to help facilitate communications and networking among companies and organizations engaged in the cruise business within the prefecture. From 2019, Okinawa — known for its subtropical beauty — will make efforts to host Seatrade Cruise Asia Pacific, the biggest convention for the cruising industry in the region. Other goals include making Okinawa a so-called turnaround port, which involves cruise ships sailing from and coming back later to the prefecture, instead of just being a waypoint, and thereby increasing the amount of time and money tourists spend during their stays.

The last stage of the road map, covering a period from 2021 onward, will focus on pulling in investment from cruise lines and other enterprises in the private sector, and preparing for the goal of constructing a resort complex that houses a cruise terminal, a hotel and shops. While planning to develop the second cruise ship berth at Naha port, the prefectural government is also seeking to have foreign cruise firms set up offices in Okinawa. Demand for cruise trips is rising in tandem with economic growth in Asia. In 2017, 888,300 cruise liner travelers from abroad visited Okinawa, registering a sixfold increase from 2012, according to local officials. Last year, cruise ships made 515 port calls in Okinawa, the highest number in Japan, the officials said, adding that the number is expected to reach 662 in 2018.

Reflecting the upbeat trend, World Dream, a 151,300-ton mega cruise ship, arrived in Okinawa for the first time on April 3, bringing in about 4,600 visitors. The 18-deck ocean liner, operated by Hong Kong-headquartered Dream Cruises, is scheduled in principle to drop off passengers in the prefectural capital of Naha every Tuesday and at Miyakojima the following day through October.

This section features topics and issues from Okinawa covered by The Okinawa Times, a major daily in the prefecture. The original article was published on March 31.