x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

UAE is on the crest of a cruise wave

With the number of people choosing to take holidays on board passenger liners set to break the 21 million mark world-wide this year, Arabian Gulf countries are developing port facilities to handle increasing demand.

Passengers arrive at the cruise ship Mariner of the Seas at Mina Rashid. Jaime Puebla / The National
Passengers arrive at the cruise ship Mariner of the Seas at Mina Rashid. Jaime Puebla / The National

This country is cementing its position as a top cruise destination in the Arabian Gulf region by developing facilities at its ports and offering a slew of touristic sights to fill the itinerary of cruise operators.

The UAE’s desire to develop a cruise tourism industry is part of a global trend.

According to Cruise Lines International Association (Clia), cruise passengers are forecast to increase by about 2 per cent to 21.7 million passengers this year from 21.3 passengers last year.

Ports at Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Khor Fakkan on the east coast all receive cruise ships, where port development is taking precedence to handle more cruise passengers.

In Abu Dhabi, Mina Zayed, which used to be the main commercial port of the emirate, is being turned into a permanent cruise terminal, which will be up and running in time for the 2014 to 2015 season, starting in October.

“An effective cruise terminal must provide a comfortable arrival and disembarkation experience for passengers and full range of services including immigration, transportation, baggage handling and supply services for the ships when in berth,” says Mr. Sultan Al-Dhaheri, Acting Executive Director Tourism Sector, Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority.

For the coming season, the authority is forecasting about 190,000 passengers from up to ship 100 calls. In the 2012 to 2013 season more than 170,000 cruise passengers came to Port Zayed, a 3 per cent increase from the previous season.

The authority is also working to have a cruise stop in Al Gharbia, or Western Region.

“Another exciting addition is the prospect of a stopover ‘Desert Island’ beach experience in our Western Region, set to open in tandem with the permanent cruise terminal,” says Mr Al Dhaheri

“This exclusive cruise beach will add something new to cruise itineraries for the 2015-16 season.”

Abu Dhabi is counting on the development of new tourist attractions to bring in more cruise passengers and encourage cruise liners to make Abu Dhabi the home for their ports of call in the region.

“The first step is to ensure the destination has a range of quality activities and experiences to encourage cruise lines to consider making a call, and the growth in the leisure offering of both the capital and the wider emirate in recent years is a great advantage,’’ says Mr Al Dhaheri.

“The challenge is to then differentiate these shore excursion opportunities from other Arabian Gulf destinations – so while we have desert tours, we can place emphasis on new facilities on Yas Island and the emergence of the world’s largest single concentration of premier cultural assets on Saadiyat Island.”

In Dubai, DP World, the world’s third-largest port operator, is leading the development of Port Rashid. The operator, which currently has one cruise terminal at Port Rashid, is building another, enabling the port to service seven cruise ships at a time.

When fully operational, the second terminal will double port capacity to handle more than 14,000 cruise passengers a day. The construction of the second terminal is expected to be finished in the first half of this year. In the 2012 to 2013 season, which started in October and ends in May, Port Rashid received more than 400,000 cruise tourists on 105 ship calls.

The new terminal will cover an area of 24,000 square metres and have about 50,000 square metres of car parking area, including space for 36 buses, 150 taxis and more than 200 car parking bays for employees and official visitors, says Mohammed Al Muallem, the senior vice president and managing director for the UAE region at DP World.

The new terminal will also have duty-free outlets, 20 retail shops, a currency exchange, ATM machines, a VIP business centre and office facilities for Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing, Dubai Police, Customs, Immigration, shipping agents and airlines.

Rashid Terminal is the home port of five of the biggest cruise liners, including the Italy-based Costa Cruises, Switzerland-based MSC Cruises, Germany’s Aida and TUI Cruises, and the US-based Royal Caribbean,.

“The on-going development of the ultra-modern facilities will further support Dubai’s long-term strategy to stimulate growth and development in the traditionally strong tourism sector,” Mr Al Muallem says.

“It will further strengthen the local economy and increase the use of Dubai’s historic port, at the centre of the city.”

Increasing the number of cruise passengers will help Dubai reach its goal to double tourist arrivals to 20 million by 2020, compared with 12 million in 2012.

In the port of Khor Fakkan (KFK), which is currently primarily a commercial operation, the authorities are expanding facilities to improve services for cruise ships. Total passengers for the 2012 to 2013 season is estimated to be 44,000 andabout the same number are expected in the coming season. The port has one berth that can receive one ship a day, handling 4,500 passengers.

“Here the infrastructure, pavements for passengers, welcome terminal, shore gangway, etc, is being developed to suit the requirements of cruise liners,” says Khalid Jasim Al Midfa, the director general of the Sharjah Commerce and Tourism Development Authority (SCTDA) in emailed replies to questions.

Cruise operators’ ships that call at Khor Fakkan port include MSC Cruises, Costa Cruises, and TUI Cruises.

Due to the economic benefits of having cruise terminals at UAE ports, Ras al Khaimah is contemplating having cruise facilities at its commercial port of Mina Saqr. The former director of Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Investment & Development Authority, Khalid Motik, said in December at the Seatrade Middle East Cruise Forum that the emirate was keen to develop its own cruise facility at Mina Saqr to be ready for the 2016 to 2017 season.

The UAE is attracting the majority of cruise liners that visit the Gulf.

MSC Cruises, for example, reported in the UAE a 27 per cent increase in passenger traffic inlast season compared with the previous one, coupled with a 2 per cent growth in revenue over the same period of time. Direct fights between Europe, the source of the majority of cruise passengers, and the UAE is helping the cruise tourism industry grown in this country.

“The Middle East and Arabian Gulf are growing both as a destination and as source market,” says Antonio Paradiso, the executive director for emerging markets at MSC Cruises

“The UAE in particular has a great potential in terms of travel and tourism, particularly as a destination for cruise calls.”