The Middle East cruise industry is small in comparison to more developed markets like Europe and North America, but it is growing rapidly.
According to Cruise Market Watch, around 48,000 people in the Middle East took a cruise in 2013, while Cruise Arabia & Africa believes that figure is significantly lower than the real figures as many residents of the Middle East are expats who might book a cruise through a travel agent in their home country, thereby diluting the statistics.
“Most locals of the Middle East will book their cruise as an add-on to their annual summer holiday, where as with expats its more of a mixture of travelling solely for the cruise and taking a cruise as an add on,” says Rosemary McNulty, General Manager & Director of Cruise Business Development Middle East at Dubai-based Discover the World Marketing, which represents Holland America Line, Seabourn, Windstar Cruises and Variety Cruises in the Middle East.
This is one way in which the Middle East cruise market is unique, which got us wondering what other trends set us apart, below are another four that Cruise Arabia & Africa discovered.
Guests book at last minute
Cruise Arabia & Africa met with Rosemary during the height of the Middle Eastern summer, when the local cruise industry was asleep between seasons. However, while the local cruise scene was very slow, the Mediterranean and Europe (favourite destinations for Middle East cruise passengers) were seeing their peak seasons and Discover the World Marketing was seeing booking demand from the local market boom.
“We’re nearing the end of our peak season in terms of booking demand,” Rosemary told us in early August. “While in North America or Europe, cruise passengers will book their cruise six months to a year in advance, here in the Middle East its more last minute, the lead-in time tends to be two to three months and its not unusual for this to shrink to two to three weeks as well!”
Passengers prefer to fly and cruise
Helen Beck, the Middle East Regional Sales Director at Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd manages sales for the world’s second-largest cruise line in the world, which is a market leader in the Middle East cruise industry, accounting for more than 25% of all cruise booking from people in the region.
“While we account for a quarter of the market, the vast majority of passengers on our Dubai-based cruises are international,” she told Cruise Arabia & Africa. “The overwhelming majority of Middle East cruise passengers prefer to fly to Europe and board the cruise ship in one of the Meditteranean or Northern European cruise hubs.”
According to Helen, this is because in the Middle East people don’t like to “cruise in their own backyard”, where as in other regional cruise markets, passengers prefer to sail from a city close to their hometown. The majority of North American passengers for example sail from Seattle, Miami, New York and other local cruise hubs, while British passengers like to sail on round-trip cruises from Southampton.
More resilient market
The past two years will not be remembered with undiluted pleasure by cruise line executives around the world. In January 2012 the global cruise industry was rocked to its core by the sinking of the Costa Concordia off the Italian island of Giglio.
It was the greatest civil maritime disaster in decades and called into question a myriad of issues regarding safety and evacuation standards and proceedures aboard modern cruise ships.
Then in February, 2013, almost exactly a year later, the cruise ship Carnival Triumph suffered a major engine room fire that left her stranded without power in the Gulf of Mexico.
No falalities were reported and the safety of the ship was never in doubt as the fire was extinguished soon after it occurred, but it took five days for tugs to be arranged to tow the ship, during which time she had no power or running water.
Images broadcast on news channels across the world showed passengers sleeping under awning on deck, sewerage running in the hallways and long queues of people for canned food. The incident did tremendous damage to the Carnival brand as well as the cruise industry as a whole, but according to Rosemary McNulty, these major incidents have done little to temper enthusiasm in the Middle East for cruise holidays.
“In North America of course it had a significant impact, with a fall in sales, but out here we’ve been fairly isolated from it,” says Rosemary. “Despite the significant exposure these incidents recieved in local media, there doesn’t appear to have been a dip in booking demand for cruises.”
Higher quality passenger
While the Middle East cruise industry accounts for just 0.5% of the global cruise market, according to Cruise Market Watch, it punches well above its weight when it comes to the actual value of each passengers in terms of the cruise fare and on-board spending.
“On a per capita basis, the Middle East cruise passenger is one of the most high quality in the world,” says Helen. “What I mean by that is that the average Middle East local, when they book a cruise, wont stay in an inside cabin and only dine in the main dining room. They’ll book a junior suite, they’ll take a shore excursion in most of the ports, they’ll enjoy spa treatments, pay for dinner in one of the premium restaurants on several of the nights during the cruise and generally provide greater revenue for the cruise line. So we like Middle East cruise passengers very much!”