(MENAFN – Khaleej Times) Cruise tourism will continue to play an important role in the coming years as the UAE sets its sights on achieving its tourism goals for 2020, experts at the Seatrade Middle East Cruise Forum in Dubai noted. In his opening remarks, Chris Hayman, chairman of Seatrade UBM for the EMEA region, noted that the picture looks very positive for the cruise tourism sector in the region.
“Cruise tourism within the Arabian Gulf has experienced explosive growth over the past five years,” he said. “As deployment continues to boom, destinations across the region have already made major investments in cruise terminal facilities to accommodate an expanding fleet of ships, which are increasing in capacity from season to season.” Such expansion is providing a major benefit to both ports and destinations throughout the region. Both Dubai and Abu Dhabi have focused their efforts on welcoming a larger number of cruise tourists in the coming years, and experts have noted each emirate’s success in achieving their targets.
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Back in 2000, just 26 cruise calls were recorded in Dubai and even this modest total fell over the next five years, but it was during that period that the plan to develop Port Rashid as a cruise hub with regularly homeporting ships evolved.
According to the latest data by Seatrade, there were about 30 calls, including homeporting ones, in 2006 when passenger numbers topped 100,000 for the first time. The 2016/17 period saw more records broken with 625,000 passengers coming on 157 calls. This was 15 per cent up on the 2015/16 passenger total and 18 per cent up on calls.
Between the 2015/16 and 2016/17 seasons, Dubai saw a 22 per cent growth in the number of cruise ships deployed and a 33 per cent growth in passenger traffic. Dubai’s target for 2020 is one million cruise passengers, which the destination appears to be on course for, noted Hamad Mohammed bin Shaik Mejren, senior vice president of the Stakeholders Department, Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (Dubai Tourism).
In order to achieve that target, the city has plans to expand its Mina Rashid cruise port, said Esam Ahmed, commercial manager of Mina Rashid and Mina Hamriyah at DP World. These include the allocation of additional berths to handle up to seven mega ships and the development of a new terminal to meet market demand by 2020.
Issam Kazim, CEO of the Dubai Corporation of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DCTCM), also spoke about the city’s cruise tourism targets, which are in line with the over arching target of the city welcoming 20 million visitors by 2020. “Cruise tourism will remain a very important segment in our tourism plans for 2020.”
Elsewhere in Abu Dhabi, the sentiment regarding the cruise tourism industry remains just as positive. Abu Dhabi Ports continues to be bullish about the homeporting prospects of its main Zayed Port, along with its new cruise terminal, not least because of its proximity to the emirate’s newly created cruise destination of Sir Bani Yas.
In 2016/17, cruise calls at the two destinations rose 40 per cent to a record 161, while passenger numbers rose to nearly 346,000 – another record-breaker which puts Abu Dhabi well on the way to its target of 800,000 by 2025. Sir Bani Yas, specifically, attracted 33 calls and 54,000 passengers. Abu Dhabi, as a whole, welcomed a record 315,000 cruise visitors in 2017 – nearly 40,000 more than the previous year.
“We have recorded positive numbers for this season, and we expect a five per cent growth for the new season,” said Saeed Al Dhaheri, cruise sector and city tour development manager at the Department of Culture & Tourism (DCT) Abu Dhabi.
Abdulkareem Al Masabi, EVP of Abu Dhabi Ports, had previously highlighted the work that has been done to put the capital on the map for the cruise industry. “We have worked diligently with cruise lines to promote Abu Dhabi as a unique travel destination and launch Sir Bani Yas Cruise Beach as a must visit eco-destination,” he said.
The re-energised focus on cruise tourism has also made its way to Ras Al Khaimah, where RAK Port is upgrading its existing passenger terminal to accommodate boutique cruise vessels – which currently account for 11 per cent of cruising capacity in the region.
Shaji Thomas, director of Destination Tourism Development at the Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority, spoke of plans for a new cruise terminal opening in February 2018. “We have a short term and long term strategy; by 2018, we want to welcome a million tourists. In the long term, we want to welcome 2.9 million visitors by 2025. For this to happen, we have to bring in Mice and cruise tourists. There are five ports in RAK currently, and we have identified one port as part of our foray into cruise tourism.”
Rohma Sadaqat I am a reporter and sub-editor on the Business desk at Khaleej Times. I mainly cover and write articles on the UAE’s retail, hospitality, travel, and tourism sectors.Originally from Lahore, I have been living in the UAE for more than 20 years. I graduated with a BA in Mass Communication, with a concentration in Journalism, and a double minor in History and International Studies from the American University of Sharjah.If you see me out and about on assignment in Dubai, feel free to stop me, say hello, and we can chat about the latest kitten videos on YouTube.