Qatar’s participation in the Cruise Arabia Alliance has been suspended, according to an official with the Dubai Tourism and Commerce Marketing Department, while all cruise departures scheduled from Doha during 2017 have been cancelled.
This comes after the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, Yemen and Libya all cut diplomatic and trade ties with the country due to political tensions that boiled over on Monday.
Six cruise ships are scheduled to visit Qatar 12 times on a dozen separate itineraries during the rest of this year, while 40 cruise itineraries, with most departing from Dubai, have Doha in Qatar listed as a port of call.
A statement from the UAE government Monday made clear that all transport links with Qatar were to be severed until further notice, calling into question the feasibility of these cruise itineraries (an official at DP World, the operator of the Dubai Cruise Terminal, told Cruise Arabia & Africa that cruise ships featuring a Qatar port call would likely be denied a permit to sail from the coast guard).
It is therefore likely that Seabourn, TUI Cruises, MSC Cruises, Azamara Club Cruises and Crystal Cruises will simply cancel their port calls in Qatar, if the situation between the UAE and Qatar does not change between now and October.
Cruise Arabia & Africa reached out to all five cruise lines, but all said that they were taking a wait and see approach to the situation.
Qatar joined the Cruise Arabia Alliance in 2013 and had seen significant growth in its cruise tourism sector, with 50,000 cruise passengers visiting the country during the 2016/17 cruise season. The surge in visitors was helped by an increase to 22 in the number of cruise ships coming to Qatar.
Another big factor was the rollout of a new free 96-hour transit visa for tourists late last year. This made it easy for any passenger on board a ship to disembark in the country.
All of that may now come crashing down in a similar way to the collapse of Bahrain’s cruise tourism market during the Arab Spring uprising.
UPDATE: On Wednesday DP World, the operator of the region’s cruise hub Dubai Cruise Terminal, confirmed that all cruise ships and commercial vessels going to or coming from Qatar would be barred from entering port in the UAE.
The move effectively blockades the State of Qatar, making it difficult to impossible for cargo shipping lines to carry goods into or out of the country, but completely shutdown the country’s cruise tourism sector as all cruise ships visiting the Middle East call in Dubai.