x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Visa costs slow tide of cruise visitors to the UAE

The cruise industry is no closer to winning a reprieve on entry visas in the Emirates despite a drive to boost tourism numbers.

Passengers arrive at the cruise ship Mariner of the Seas as it made its maiden port of call in Dubai yesterday. Jaime Puebla / The National
Passengers arrive at the cruise ship Mariner of the Seas as it made its maiden port of call in Dubai yesterday. Jaime Puebla / The National

The UAE still needs to work towards greater visa reprieve for its cruise travellers as it aims to increase tourism numbers, an executive with the world's largest cruise ship operator says.

Last November, the UAE Government announced that tourists arriving on cruise liners were permitted multiple-entry visas. However, those entering the country through the airports then embarking on cruises do not have the facility.

"It would be great to have multiple entry visas for our travellers who come from all over the world," said Lakshmi Durai, the executive director for the Middle East for Royal Caribbean International (RCI). "We are working with [the Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing, DTCM] and are hoping something would come soon."

Typically RCI's passengers come in through a UAE airport to get on the boat and then leave the country through a seaport to Oman, where travellers are issued visas on arrival. When coming back to Dubai to disembark, they require another visa to enter the emirate.

RCI, which has brought tourists to the UAE since 2010, makes stops in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Fujairah before going to Muscat. A cruise visitor visa in Oman is free for 48-hour visits or less, and 5 rials (Dh47) for up to 96 hours.

Cruise travellers must buy a visa each time they enter the UAE. Most, such as those from China and Russia, both crucial source markets for the UAE, obtain the visas at a cost of US$240 per visitor.

RCI changed its itinerary because of the issue, altering the seven-day Gulf trip that took in Bahrain, a stop that RCI offered when it launched in 2010.

"Cruise tourists to the Middle East are growing at 30 per cent year-on-year, but the percentage is still very small of the overall numbers," Ms Durai said yesterday when its ship Mariner of the Seas made a port call to Dubai from Galveston, Texas en route from Barcelona and on to Shanghai.

Ahmad Belhoul, the chief executive of strategy and tourism sector development at DTCM, agreed the number of cruise tourists is small. They comprise 5 per cent of overall tourist numbers to Dubai, he said. This year, DTCM is expecting 420,000 tourists from 110 ship calls. By 2015, it expects the number to rise to 450,000 passengers. Each cruise tourist spends $250 to $300 per day, Mr Belhoul added.

Abu Dhabi had 180,000 passengers from 88 vessel calls during the 2012 and 2013 season.