More cruise passengers than ever before will visit the Middle East this year, with the vast majority departing on roundtrip and one-way cruises from Dubai Cruise Terminal at Mina Rashid, which is making it difficult for local souvenir traders in other ports to compete.
Muttrah Souq in Muscat is one such example. Cruise tourist arrivals to Port Sultan Qaboos reached almost 400,000 last year, but this is not converting into extra cash for shopkeepers, according to local traders quoted by Times of Oman.
Although the cruise season is in full swing, and has grown by around 10% from 2016 to 2017, with at least one vessel docking almost daily at Port Sultan Qaboos, the increase in visits is not putting money in retailers’ pockets.
Samit Saha, a seller at one of the stores selling traditional items, as well as jewellery, handicrafts and lamps, says that this is largely down to the difficulty in competing with Dubai, through which 90% of cruise tourists in the Middle East transit and board their ships.
“A lot of people are coming, but they are not really buying as much. They spend maybe one or two Euros to 10 Euros. Also, 20 per cent of the people are buying jewellery and spending $200 or $300 dollars, but sales are much lower, when compared to the number of tourists we see here,” he said.
“Some just come take photos and look around, and most probably come via Dubai and then here, so there are similar kinds of things being sold there, too, and that is a problem for us. The rest of the year we are getting some business.”
Dubai has been the dominant cruise hub of the Middle East for the last ten years or so, correlating with a timeline mentioned by one merchant, Mohammed Rafiq, who sells Pashminas and other handwork from India.
“We have been here for 35 years, and for the last 10 years I have noticed a constant fall in business, and especially in the last few years I have noticed business reducing year by year,” he said. “We have original Pashminas which come from Kashmir in India and other traditional handwork items from Jaipur in Rajasthan. We are offering original items and we have been this way for 35 years.”
Cruise ship passengers that Cruise Arabia & Africa has spoken to during various ship visits at Dubai Cruise Terminal have frequently complained of a lack of time to properly explore some of the ports visited on cruise lines’ Arabian Gulf itineraries.
This was reiterated by Monika, a passenger aboard AIDAaura, who told Times of Oman that there isn’t enough time for shopping. “This is our second time in Oman. We were here before in 2010. It’s a beautiful place, but this time we are only here for 12 hours, so there is not enough time to buy a lot of things from the souq, though I bought a small lamp as a souvenir here.”
AIDA Cruises is one of five major cruise lines homeporting in the Middle East cruise market this year. It’s 7-night Arabian Gulf cruises out of Dubai stay overnight at Dubai Cruise Terminal on the first night of the cruise, as does TUI Cruises, Costa Cruises, and MSC Cruises.
Royal Caribbean during its Arabian Gulf cruise season last year was the only one of the six cruise lines that stayed overnight in Muscat first, with an overnight port call in Dubai at the end of the cruise.