The luxury Italian cruise liner MSC Lirica will spend its winters based in Mina Zayed from next year after an agreement between the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ABTA) and the ship's owner, MSC Cruises.
The 784-cabin liner, which has nine passenger decks, will be the first cruise ship to call Abu Dhabi its home port. It is expected to bring millions of dirhams and thousands of additional tourists to the capital when it starts its operations next October.
Pierfrancesco Vago, the chief executive of MSC Cruises, said: "MSC Cruises is proud to become the first cruise company to choose Abu Dhabi as a home port. With our state-of-the-art vessel operating 95 [port] calls and rotating in the region, our presence will have a significant impact on Abu Dhabi's tourism industry."
The agreement signed by the ADTA and MSC says that Mina Zayed will serve as the primary embarkation and disembarkation port for the 59,000-tonne ship.
The elevation from port-of-call to home port is expected to attract an additional 43,000 tourists to the emirate from Europe. In turn, this is expected to bring Dh135 million (US$36.7m) to the capital. The cruising season in the Gulf runs from October to May.
Mubarak al Muhairi, the director general of the ADTA, said: "MSC Cruises's commitment to Abu Dhabi as a home port will deliver both tactical and strategic outcomes for the emirate. Beyond substantial, broad-based benefits to our domestic tourism sector through incremental gains in hotel guests, longer length of stay and greater spending, this partnership provides Abu Dhabi a firm footing on the international cruise tourism map and reinforces the strategic case for a world-class, purpose-built cruise terminal in the Emirate."
The partnership is expected to help the capital to reach its target of attracting a total of 2.3 million visitors by the end of 2012. The ADTA's independent study revealed home-port visitors customarily pump more money into the domestic economy than port-of-call visitors since they stay in town and go on tours. Airlines, hotels and the retail sector all stand to benefit as a result.
Mr al Muhairi said: "To harness the potential increase in cruise visitors, it is vital that we continue improving the emirate's existing cruise infrastructure and invest in the active development of pre and post-cruise options.
He said the ADTA was in the early stages of the development of a dedicated cruise terminal capable of handling up to 180 giant and boutique cruise liners a year.
"A state-of-the-art cruise terminal would greatly leverage Abu Dhabi's positional and island geographies, strengthen our case to become the leading regional cruise hub over the next five years and place the inbound hotel guest target on a firm course," Mr al Muhairi said.
The capital's cruise arrivals rose 44 per cent from 125,000 passengers in 2008 to 2009 season to 180,000 passengers. The current season is expected to attract 30 per cent more passengers, bringing the total for this season to 235,000 passengers.
Between next October and March 2012, MSC Lirica will make 19 eight-day/seven-night cruises from Abu Dhabi to Muscat, Fujairah, Bahrain, Dubai and back to the capital.
The cost of these cruises is expected to be between Ä700 (Dh3,605)and Ä3,000, with children under the age of 18 sailing for free with their families.