The Middle East cruise industry is growing at an impressive pace, with a number of cruise line’s having indicated to Cruise Arabia & Africa that they are experiencing growth in the number of Middle East-based travelers taking a cruise each year…
Every major cruise destination in the Gulf has also announced significant expansion plans for their cruise tourism facilities.
Cities such as Dubai, the main cruise hub in the region, but also Abu Dhabi, Ras al-Khaimah, Muscat and Doha, all leading ports of call for Middle East-based cruise ships, are redeveloping their cruise terminals and working together to promote the rapidly growing industry both regionally and on a global scale, it has been revealed during the Arabian Travel Market in Dubai.
Costa Cruises, along with MSC Cruises, has been a regular home port cruise line for Dubai for several years
Dubai is expanding its Mina Rashid Cruise Terminal to cover an area of 2-million square metres (pictured above), which will see its current ability to accommodate five ships simultaneously increased to seven. According to DP World, the expansion will be completed in the first half of 2014. Part of the expansion is a new terminal, called T2, which will cover 24,000 square metres, as well as 50,000 square metres of parking space for vehicles, which will be particularly convenient for Dubai-based cruiser taking an Arabian Gulf cruise from the city. The new terminal will also include room for 36 buses, 150 taxis. and employee and private parking. DP World has told Cruise Arabia & Africa that once the expansion is complete the Dubai Cruise Terminal will be capable of processing 14,000 passengers per day. A retail expansion and business centre will also be included in the new facilities.
Although Dubai Cruise Tourism, a division of Dubai’s Department of Tourism Commerce and Marketing (DTCM), reports 300,000 cruise tourists in the 2013/2014 season, a decrease from the 408,000 tourists in 2013/2013, the organisation has stated that this is due to the cyclical nature of the cruise industry, with long-term growth forecast in the coming years. The decrease in cruise tourists is due in large part to the unrest in Egypt, which forced all major cruise lines to cancel their Egyptian and Red Sea itineraries, many of which featured Dubai as a final port of call. Dubai’s cruise tourism industry was also hit by Royal Caribbean’s decision to pull Serenade of the Seas out of the region following the 2012/13 Arabian Gulf cruise season. However, it was recently announced that Royal Caribbean would be returning a ship to the Gulf for the 2014/15 cruise season. Splendor of the Seas has been confirmed for the region this coming cruise season.
Splendor of the Seas will see Royal Caribbean see a much-anticipated return to the region for the 2014/15 season
Because of Royal Caribbean’s decision not to return one of their liners to the region for 2013’s cruise season, Abu Dhabi experienced a knock to its cruise tourism industry. In 2013, 14 ships called in the UAE capital 76 times, with Costa Cruises, AIDA and MSC Cruises featuring Abu Dhabi on a number of 7-night Arabian Gulf cruises that use Dubai as a turnaround port. This number was down from the 96 port calls in Abu Dhabi in 2012 from 13 ships, one of which was the Serenade of the Seas, which operated 12 cruises in the Gulf before she was pulled out by Royal Caribbean. However, because the ships visiting Abu Dhabi in 2013 are larger than those in the region last year, the city will still see a 13% increase in cruise tourism numbers, according to the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority.
Abu Dhabi has erected a temporary facility at its cruise terminal while expansion developments are underway. The current terminal is spread across 1,600 square metres and features retail shops and facilities for local authorities. According to the Abu Dhabi Ports Company, the new terminal will be able to accommodate four cruise ships in excess of 100,000 tons or 300m in length. At the recent Seatrade Middle East Cruise Forum in Abu Dhabi, Mubarak Al Muhairi, director-general of Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority, indicated that final plans for the Abu Dhabi cruise terminal expansion would be revealed in early 2014. The UAE’s capital is expecting ten maiden calls this season, including Cunard’s newest cruise liner, the 294m, 2,547-passenger Signature-class MS Queen Elizabethand the Cunard flagship Queen Mary 2.
Abu Dhabi and Dubai are not alone in their cruise terminal expansion plans, however, Ras al-Khaimah has also announced that their cruise facility at Mina Saqr will be ready by 2016, while Sharjah has previously announced a 50% increase in the number of cruise tourists visiting the emirate, suggesting the UAE continues to dominate the regional cruise industry landscape. Sharjah in April, 2015 announced that it was to build a new cruise terminal at Khor Fakkan in an effort to boost the port’s cruise tourism potential. The emirate as a whole has been visited 36 times by a dozen cruise ships homeported in Dubai and visiting from outside the Middle East during the 2014-15 cruise season, while Khor Fakkan itself has seen 22 port calls from the same cruise ships, bringing in 66,000 cruise tourists to the city.
Muscat is one of the cities in the Middle East looking to boost its standing as a cruise destination
In Qatar, as part of a wider strategy to attract seven million visitors annually by 2030, the Qatar Tourism Authority has announced that commercial port operations will be shifted from the Port of Doha to a new USD $7.4-billion facility outside the city by 2016 so that Doha could cater exclusively to cruise ships. Oman also announced significant plans at the conference, confirming that commercial shipping in Sultan Qaboos Port will cease by August, 2014 so that the harbour can also cater exclusively to cruise ships. The redevelopment of the port will include three new cruise berths, ferry and marina berths, hotels, souks, restaurants and other tourism facilities, Salim Al Mamari, the director-general of Tourism Development at the Ministry of Tourism announced at the Sea Trade Conference. Al Mamari also announced that expansion is planned for Salalah, with a separate cruise terminal being developed, while Khasab port in Musandam in the north is being re-designed with additional facilities for cruise ships.
Perhaps the most exciting development in the local cruise industry, however, has been the establishment of a joint venture between the tourism boards of Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Oman. The venture, called Cruise Arabia (without any relation to the name of this website), has two stated goals: to promote cruise vacations to the people of the Middle East, thereby boosting the region as a source of cruise tourists, and to promote the region as a cruise destination. According to Hamad Mohammed Bin Mejren, of the Dubai Department of Tourism & Commerce Marketing, Dubai and the wider Middle East is already a top winter cruise destination. “Our objectives are to grow cruise tourism both in terms of international visitors using Dubai as an embarkation point and residents of the UAE taking cruises around the region,” says Bin Mejren.