Smooth sailing for UAE cruise industry
Dubai: Cruise tourism continues to grow in the UAE as the government develops the required infrastructure and promotes the country as a cruise destination, analysts say.
The UAE is estimated to have 800,000 cruise arrivals in 2015, a sharp increase from 150,000 arrivals a decade ago, said Nikola Kosutic, research manager at consultancy Euromonitor International.
Dubai alone is expected to attract 475,000 cruise tourists and 138 ship calls during the current season (October 2015-June 2016), according to Hamad Bin Mejren, senior vice-president of the Dubai Events and Convention Bureau, Dubai Tourism.
The main driver of the industry’s growth in the UAE is “the government’s effort to develop this lucrative segment, especially in terms of infrastructure and continuous promotion of the UAE as a destination on a global level,” Kosutic said.
He said that major cruise companies have been adding the UAE to their itineraries “due to the most modern facilities and fast processing times of passengers in terms of visa clearances and transportation links to the major attractions.”
The UAE has been developing its cruise terminals in recent years to boost cruise tourist numbers. Last year, Dubai opened its third cruise terminal, located at Mina Rashid. The 28,000 square metre terminal has a capacity of 14,000 passengers per day. More recently, Abu Dhabi Ports opened a new cruise terminal at Zayed Port about a week ago. Sharjah too is building a new cruise terminal at Khorfakkan Port.
“Cruise terminals and their efficient operations are critical to the cruise business,” Kosutic said.
John Podaras, partner at consultancy Hotel Development Resources, said: “Abu Dhabi’s decision to open a dedicated cruise terminal and the expansion of the airport and Etihad will help to add to the city’s attraction for this sector of tourism.”
Last year, a multiple-entry visa system for cruise tourists in the UAE was introduced to boost ship calls and passenger numbers. Since then, there has been an increase in visitors from new source markets such as China, Russia, South Africa and South America, Bin Mejren said.
“Having conducted multi-city roadshows in India and across the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] in the past years, we have also seen an increase in the number of tourists, and we continue our efforts to promote cruising in the region,” he said, adding that Saudi Arabia and India are Dubai’s top two tourism source markets.
On why Dubai is a popular cruise destination, Bin Mejren said that the cruise port’s location in the centre of the city gives cruise tourists access to a range of attractions.
“One of the key factors that have established Dubai as the leader in cruise tourism is the existence and proximity of Dubai International Airport which is a major air-traffic hub,” Podaras added.
Cruise lines such as TUI, Aida, MSC, Costa and Royal Caribbean are home-porting in Dubai this season.
Other factors driving the growth of the UAE cruise industry include “increased awareness by Dubai Tourism and Cruise Arabia mainly in Europe … the availability of a variety of hotels for pre and post cruise guests and various new attractions in Dubai,” said Ashok Kumar, managing director of Cruise Master, a cruise booking agency in Dubai.