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Cruise liners to expand Arabian Gulf operations

Senior executives from 14 global cruise lines, plus representatives from regional tourism and port authorities, tour operators, travel agents and other cruise partners addressed both the opportunities and challenges faced in expanding the sector – reinforcing the message that the Arabian Gulf has potential for further growth as new lines commit to winter cruise schedules in the region.

The 3 day event was moderated by Seatrade Chairman Chris Hayman, who said the company had organised the first cruise conference in Dubai back in 1999, and he applauded how far the sector had developed since then.

“Dubai has to be admired for its ambitions and achievements in reaching out to the cruise industry,” he said. “From just 17 cruise line calls in 2001, this year the city will host 120 calls and 425,000 passengers. In order to further grow that business, our agenda at the Convention has been to address how the whole region can grow as a cruise destination – by adding new ports of call, new shore excursions, expanding port infrastructure, sourcing new markets both locally and regionally, and smoothing visa issues.”

In his welcome address, Dubai Department of Tourism Commerce Marketing Executive Director for Business Tourism, Hamad bin Mejran, emphasised the economic impact of the cruise sector: “Cruise tourism in Dubai is expected to yield an Dhs3.5bn return between 2010 and 2015,” he said.

“We need to amplify awareness about cruise tourism regionally as well as help cruise lines source passengers through our 18 overseas offices – in addition, as the cruise capital of the region, we are committed to building new facilities that will further contribute to the appeal of the Arabian Gulf and work closely with our neighbours to share our experience.”

In attendance at the event were representatives from TUI, a German cruise line that will start winter hub operations from Dubai in 2012, as well as from MSC, whose ship MSC Lirica arrives in Dubai on October 28 en route to Abu Dhabi, where it will homeport for the winter for the first time.

MSC Corporate operating officer, Neil Palomba, revealed at the Convention that a decision had already been made to upgrade ship operations in the region next winter: “While we have 95 port calls schedule for winter 2011/2012, next year we will bring in the MSC Opera, which has capacity for 2,000 passengers and will sail 25 cruises with 125 port calls – bringing in 54,000 passengers,” he said.

Whilst the cruise line executives were enthusiastic about the potential of the Arabian Gulf as a winter cruise centre, three issues were highlighted as areas where more work could be done to further ambitious growth plans.

According to Sebastian Aherns, managing director of Hapag-Lloyd, the region was a ‘dream destination’ but he said the UAE transit visa situation had to be resolved as it involved additional costs that made the region difficult to sell for volume operators. “Dubai embraces a phenomenal level of hospitality and its neighbouring countries can also follow suit in a concerted effort to market the region,” he added.

In addition, cruise executives agreed that new port calls were required to enable them to vary their cruise itineraries, all of which focused on the three major hubs of Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Muscat.

“We would like a beach destination,” said Costa president, Gianni Onorato. “In addition, we are extending the season and looking at operations potentially from October through to May.”

According to Herbert Soanes, deputy managing director, research and strategic planning, DVB Bank, interest in cruise as a vacation was booming in key markets such as Germany and the UK.

“European cruise numbers are growing at twice the rate of the US, and winter deployment of ships in the Arabian Gulf will benefit the lines and the passengers – air travel costs to the region are lower than to the other principal winter cruise region, the Caribbean,” he said.

“If you just take one market – the UK, passenger numbers to the Arabian Gulf last winter were up 78%, while those to the Caribbean decreased by 3%.”

In conclusion, convention participants voiced optimism that cruise was a thriving sector that would continue to grow as cruise lines looked for winter sunshine and new destinations.

“We are optimistic that this convention has proved to be a catalyst for the industry, bringing together the cruise lines and the destinations and providing a regional platform for dialogue and co-operation,” said Chris Hayman.

Speakers at the event included representatives from AIDA, Celebrity, Costa Cruises, Fred. Olsen, Hapag Lloyd, Holland America Line, Louis Cruises, MSC, Royal Caribbean, Saga Shipping, Seabourn, Silversea, The World, TUI and Variety Cruises.

The Seatrade Middle East Cruise Convention is sponsored by Rais Hassan Saadi – Cruise Division, Royal Caribbean Arabia and Saifee Ship Spare Parts Ship Chandlers LLC.


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