Cruise Industry

Why Coronavirus impact for Dubai cruise sector is difficult to predict

With more than 80,000 people around the world infected with Coronavirus, more than 2,700 deaths, and mass disruption to the cruise sector across Asia, the ongoing epidemic’s impact on the cruise sector in the Middle East remains difficult to assess.

On the one hand, there is bound to be a significant drop in tourists from China to Dubai, who make up a large portion of the more than 1-million cruise tourists who fly-cruise from Dubai annually.

Dubai skyline 1

The Dubai cruise sector stands to see a material drop in cruise tourists due to the China travel bans

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If Greece’s experience is any indication, up to 70% of Chinese tourists may ultimately cancel their planned holiday to Dubai amid unprecedented city-wide quarantine’s in mainland China, and travel restrictions (both Etihad and Emirates Airlines have suspended flights to all Chinese cities expect Beijing).

There are already anecdotal reports of a noticeable drop in tourist numbers to Dubai for the current season, although official statistics have not been released.

In addition, with all major cruise lines having cancelled or amended their cruise departures in China through February and March, it’s likely that fewer cruise ships will be transiting through the region en-route to their Asian deployments (China’s Shanghai and Tianjin are the homeports for several of the mega-cruise ships that have recently cruised from Dubai on repositioning voyages).

China was meant to account for 10% of the cruise industry’s capacity this year, with at least ten cruise lines homeporting in the region for part of the season. Now, those two dozen vessels have to find alternative destinations.

cruise china virus

The Coronavirus epidemic in China has caused mass disruption to the cruise sector

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Norwegian has redeployed to Europe, while Princess has repositioned to Australia, and Royal Caribbean has redeployed to Australia and California. One of its Asia ships, Spectrum of the Seas, is the second-largest by class in the world, and cruised from Dubai last year.

Costa Cruises meanwhile has laid-up all three cruise ships it has homeporting in Asia. Like Royal Caribbean’s Spectrum, it was operating some of the largest ships in its fleet in China, which was until the Coronavirus outbreak one of the fastest-growing in the world.

All of these ships will no longer be cruising from Dubai on their outward or homeward repositioning cruises between Europe and Asia, which typically included a turnaround port call in Dubai (during which passengers would disembark and a new load would board).

Spectrum of the Seas 2

Spectrum of the Seas at the Dubai Cruise Terminal

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Travel Weekly has a great rundown of all the itinerary changes in the Chinese market, but what does seem clear is that the impact to the current season, as well as potentially future seasons will be significant due to consumer confidence issues.

“That is a very negative initial impression for an awful lot of Chinese consumers,” says James Hardiman, a travel industry analyst at Wedbush Securities, speaking to the New York Times about the impact to the cruise sector in Asia.

With 10% of the global cruise industry’s tonnage unable to cruise in Asia and looking for alternative destinations, there may be a temporary uptick in volume in the Dubai cruise sector, though.

We’ve already seen this with Celebrity Cruises’ decision to cruise roundtrip in the Arabian Gulf aboard Celebrity Constellation as a direct result of the virus, while AIDA Cruises appears to be repositioning AIDAvita to Dubai following the early cancellation of her China season.

A temporary redeployment to Dubai could translate into a more regular program of Dubai cruises in future if cruise lines like the demand and passenger yields they experience in the Middle East cruise market.

2 replies »

    • Hey Tony, according to MSC and cruise officials in Dubai, the current Coronavirus epidemic has not impacted cruises from Dubai. MSC Lirica will sail as normal. As to whether or not its safe to do so is a personal choice, but there’s no indication of the virus being a threat to cruises in the region at present. Hope you have a great time!

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