Dubai yesterday opened its new cruise terminal, the centrepiece of the emirate's plan to boost its tourism sector by tapping into the US$25 billion (Dh91.82bn) global cruise market. The emirate's overall tourism sector, along with other destinations worldwide, has been hurt by the global economic crisis, with tourism demand falling and visitors spending less on their stays. But Dubai's cruise sector has continued to grow.
Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, the Crown Prince of Dubai, declared the terminal open during a ceremony that also featured the christening of the 450 million (Dh2.24bn) Costa Deliziosa, which will begin cruising in the Gulf in March. The ship has a passenger capacity of 2,828. "Cruise tourism is a key growth segment which will bring great economic benefits to the region, increasing overall expenditure in the tourism sector and boosting the economy," said Imran Hashim, a travel and tourism consultant at Euromonitor International in Dubai.
Italy's Costa Cruises estimates that this season its cruises, which it expects to carry 140,000 passengers, will have a direct economic impact of 14m on Dubai, including guest expenditure, food and beverage, fuel and port fees. There are wider economic benefits, such as business for Emirates Airline, that are not included in this figure, the company said. "When the cruise tourist comes here and sees Dubai perhaps for the first time, they go home and they talk and they may come back," said Pier Luigi Foschi, the chairman and chief executive of Costa Cruises. "I think the Dubai Government has seen this opportunity, which is why they have kept investing."
In 2007, Costa became the first international cruise company to make Dubai its regional hub. Royal Caribbean last month launched its first Gulf cruise with its ship Brilliance of the Seas, which is based in the emirate and includes Abu Dhabi and Muscat in its ports of call. Tony Buss, 69, a retired construction company manager from Orpington in Kent, was a guest on Costa Deliziosa with his wife, Jean. The ship had sailed to Dubai from Savona, Italy. Mr Buss said he was planning to visit the Burj Khalifa and take a tour of the city, try some restaurants and go shopping during a three-day visit, before flying out of Dubai International Airport.
"We visited Dubai last July on a week-long stay in a hotel," he said. "Last time I was here I spent £7,000 (Dh39.623) on diamond jewellery for my wife." The ship stopped in Abu Dhabi for two days before arriving in Dubai. Mr Buss said he had not thought about visiting Abu Dhabi before, but after his stop-off on the cruise he was planning to return to the capital next winter to stay at Emirates Palace. "Abu Dhabi was brilliant," he said. "We took the bus tour and we rather enjoyed the Marina Mall."
Last year, Dubai hosted 100 cruise ships, which brought in about 260,000 tourists. This year, Dubai is expected to host 120 ships with more than 325,000 passengers. The emirate hopes to attract 195 ships with 575,000 passengers in 2015. "In 2001, we had just about 7,000 cruise passengers," said Hamad bin Mejren, the executive director of business tourism at the Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing.
"The new cruise terminal shows our commitment to the development of this business." Mr bin Mejren said Dubai was planning to expand and improve its facilities as the sector grew. Abu Dhabi, too, is aiming to become a home port for cruise ships. A study conducted by the emirate found that the cruise industry's impact on the capital would be even greater if it became a home port and built a dedicated cruise terminal.
"There are substantial gains to be accrued from the evolution of Abu Dhabi from its existing [status as] port of call to home port status," said Sheikh Sultan bin Tahnoon Al Nahyan, the chairman of the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority. "These include incremental increases in hotel guest stays, in-destination spending by both guests and crew, the opportunity to deliver a richer destination experience to cruise liner guests who fall into our high-end visitor target and to further engage with them with a view to prompting return visits."