Dubai has an ambitious goal of attracting upwards of 1-million cruise tourists to the city by 2020, and cruise tourism officials have identified India as a key source market for these new arrivals.
The city is already the primary cruise hub of the region, with all but one of the six homeporting cruise lines cruising roundtrip from Dubai during the upcoming 2018/19 cruise season (Celebrity Cruises will be cruising from Abu Dhabi, for now).
The cruise season that just passed (2017/18) saw 625,000 cruise passengers board ships in Dubai for predominantly 7-night roundtrip cruises in the Arabian Gulf.
According to Issam Kazim, CEO of the Dubai Corporation for Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM), this is a number that can only go up.
“The numbers that we have achieved today, and even the target number we have set ourselves of one million, is still scratching the surface,” Kazim told delegates at the recent Seatrade Middle East Cruise Forum. “No goal is far beyond reach.”
Investments in cruise facilities are being made across the region, and tourism bodies within each country have been collaborating together much more closely through the Cruise Arabia Alliance, to co-ordinate on route development, capacity and other issues.
However, according to Andy Stuart, President and CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line, it isn’t better infrastructure that the Arabian Gulf needs, but greater demand. “Nothing infrastructure wise needs to change to entice us to homeport in the region, we need to see more demand for fly-cruise itineraries in the Arabian Gulf,” he told Cruise Arabia & Africa.
Steven Young, director of port services and government affairs for cruise giant Carnival’s P&O Cruises and Cunard lines, agrees, pointing out that more cruise lines need to provide Indian itineraries to capture the growing middle-class Indian cruise market.
“Linkage to the Indian source markets is crucial for us,” says Young. “The Middle East has winter sun reliability that is comparable only to the Caribbean and that’s a huge advantage, and it makes it popular with Indian cruise tourists, as well as those from other markets such as Europe and North America.”
P&O Cruises, MSC Cruises and Celebrity Cruises will all be cruising roundtrip from the United Arab Emirates to the west coast of India during the coming 2018/19 cruise season. According to Indian cruise tourism officials, this will boost interest in Arabian Gulf cruises on the sub-continent.
“India currently has more than 120,000 people who leave its shores every year to fly overseas for a cruise holiday. We would like to capture that big market and we would like to give them this experience within India,” says Satyajeet Rajan, director-general for tourism at India’s ministry of tourism.
“There is huge potential for both-way travel given the number of wealthy Indians who live in the Gulf,” he adds.
Shri Yashodhan Wanage, the deputy chairman, of Mumbai Port Trust, says that during the 2016/17 season, India received 166 ship calls containing around 200,000 passengers. He added that a Carnival study had shown potential for this market to grow over a period of 20-25 years to 4 million passengers and 955 ship calls.
“Out of this 4 million, 3 million would be domestic,” he says.
If even half of those 955 cruise ship calls in India originate in Dubai cruising roundtrip from the Arabian Gulf to India, Dubai cruise tourism officials would far surpass the 2020 goal of one million cruise tourist visitors to the city.