MSC Cruises is one of two cruise lines that homeports in both Dubai and Abu Dhabi for its annual Middle East cruise season, but its Dubai cruise departures typically sell out twice as fast as Abu Dhabi, according to Jean-Pierre Joubert, shorex director port development and shoreside activities MSC Cruises.
“I’m not sure why that is, perhaps it’s because Dubai is better known globally, or it may be that tourists see Dubai as offering more to do in terms of attractions and famous landmarks,” he told delegates at the Seatrade Middle East Cruise Forum.
MSC Cruises and AIDA Cruises both allow passengers to start and end their cruise in either Dubai or Abu Dhabi.
The comments came during a discussion on the feasibility of extending the Middle East cruise season, which toward its end focused on interporting and how that might increase passenger numbers by giving passengers more choice in terms of the number of days they’d like to spend at sea and the port at which they board the cruise line.
Steven Young, director port services and govt affairs, P&O Cruises and Cunard, Carnival UK, said that P&O during its upcoming debut cruise season would not be interporting, but said he saw its merits. “It creates quite a headache for the booking department though as you have to make sure that each leg of the itinerary is booked up when you have passengers embarking and disembarking at different ports on the same cruise.”
AIDA Cruises and MSC Cruises are the only two of the six cruise lines operating in the Middle East to homeport in both Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
Interporting (the practice of using both Dubai and Abu Dhabi as ‘turnaround’ ports) holds huge potential as a way to engage local Middle East residents, and prompt more first-time cruisers to try out a cruise.
Costa Cruises, for example, while it does not interport, operates 7-day cruise itineraries in the Arabian Gulf out of Dubai, but gives passengers the option to book a 5-day cruise (skipping the overnight port call in Dubai on either end of the itinerary).
It’s a practice that carries inherent risk for the cruise lines though, as it affects the revenue for the season and the net yield on each cruise, which is why MSC Cruises and AIDA Cruises thus far are the only two of the six Middle East homeporting cruise lines to do it.
The practice also likely hasn’t found traction in the Middle East cruise market because it relies on fly-cruise packages for 99% of its volume (with Middle East residents and locals accounting for just 1% of capacity on the Arabian Gulf cruises).
“Interporting causes heartburn for the revenue management team because it affects the yields on those itineraries,” explains Craig Milan, vice president of itineraries and destination development for Virgin Voyages. “When it comes to using interporting as a way to shorten the cruise for passengers looking for only a few days at sea versus a full week, it doesn’t really make sense because the Middle East cruise market sources most of its passengers from Europe and the UK, and people don’t typically fly to the other side of the world to take a shorter cruise.”
In short then, while interporting and offering two or three day cruises between Dubai, Sir Bani Yas Island and Abu Dhabi holds huge potential to get more Middle East cruise passengers to try out a cruise, it is too logistically complicated and financially risky for any cruise lines to test out.