Middle East cruise tourism on crest of a development wave

29 Feb 2012

Passenger numbers and infrastructure investment growing significantly; Arabian Travel Market cruise pavilion to bring together key industry players

The positive outlook for the region’s cruise sector is boosting reciprocal tourism potential in key destinations across the GCC. The Middle East is recognised as a key growth market through to 2015 following major commitments to invest substantial amounts into new cruise terminals and associated infrastructure.

According to Reed Travel Exhibitions, the organisers of Arabian Travel Market, the expansion of regional facilities and the associated potential increase in revenue from tourism will provide a catalyst for further port development throughout the Gulf.

“Diversification of the tourism product to capitalise on new market segments, and significant government investment in supporting infrastructure, has already demonstrated real time benefits for Dubai, which has seen passenger figures quadruple over the last five years,” said Mark Walsh, Portfolio Director, Reed Travel Exhibitions.

The future potential of regional cruise tourism will once again be a highlight at this year’s Arabian Travel Market which takes place at the Dubai International Convention and Exhibition Centre from 30 April - 3 May. A dedicated onsite cruise pavilion will provide a platform for regional port operators, tourism service providers and international cruise lines looking to develop a well-rounded cruise product - both off and onshore.

Two major international cruise operators which will be exhibiting on the cruise pavilion at ATM include Royal Caribbean International and MSC Cruises both having shown serious regional commitment.

Abu Dhabi also launched a 1,300-visitor capacity tented cruise terminal at Mina Zayed in late 2011, ahead of the construction of a permanent dedicated facility to accommodate 600,000 passengers by 2030. Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority has also prioritised cruise tourism as a strategic focus for 2012, following MSC Cruises' decision to base its 59,000 ton MSC Lirica vessel in Abu Dhabi's Mina Zayed Port, adding up to 39,000 annual cruise arrivals to the market.

Dubai’s Cruise Terminal, which was named the world’s leading cruise port for the fifth year running at the World Travel Awards 2011, has seen five-fold growth since launching its new facility in early 2010. Further expansion is also anticipated, with DP World planning to expand existing amenities and provide berthing facilities for up to seven visiting cruise ships to accommodate projected passenger numbers of 625,000 by 2015. The 2011 season closed with a total of 135 ships and 375,000 visitors, and these numbers are expected to increase to 150 vessels with in excess of 425,000 passengers in 2012.

Other destinations across the region are also concentrating on this sector, with plans for the construction of new dedicated cruise terminal hubs being fast tracked in a number of Gulf states.

For example, Qatar is investing $5.5 billion in a cruise ship terminal in Doha capable of handling two to three cruise ships. Marsa Zayed in Aqaba, a $10 billion marina community and the largest real estate project in Jordan's history, will provide, among other projects, more than 300 yacht berths in a luxury marina and a cruise ship terminal. This is due to be completed by 2017.

Oman is working to transform Mina Qaboos into a dedicated cruise port as part of the government’s Vision 2020 plan, coming off the back of a record 72 per cent increase in passengers during the 2010/11 winter season against 2009/10 figures.

“The rapid growth of cruise-related facilities and terminals has the potential to showcase multiple destinations to inbound visitors eager to get a snapshot of the Middle East from the comfort and convenience of a shipboard base.

“Upscale cruise tourism and the arrival of smaller luxury cruise liners into the region, are additional opportunities highlighted by regional tourism leaders. Bespoke onshore activities would also complement this ‘niche within a niche” added Walsh.

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