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Cruise sector boosts Dubai tourism

With the cruise sector continuing to play a larger role in Dubai's tourism industry, the emirate recently welcomed the second largest cruise ship ever to come to the UAE.

Royal Caribbean’s 137,276 tonne, 3840 guests-capacity mega cruise liner Voyager of the Seas arrived in Dubai’s Port Rashid on Tuesday after completing a 15-day journey from Barcelona.

The arrival of the cruise ship, which stopped in Dubai on its way to Singapore for the next leg of its journey, confirmed the capacity and capability of Dubai’s tourism industry, said the head of Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing, Hamad bin Mejren.

“Ten years is a very short span of time in a destination development, but we have achieved remarkable results due to the government’s vision and investments programme, public and private sectors partnership and our aggressive promotional and marketing drive,” he said.

Voyager of the Seas is the second largest ship to dock in Dubai after the Queen Mary 2, which had an overall length of 345 meters. In another milestone, Dubai received 5 cruise ships on a single day for the first time in its history last month. These cruise ships had on board 15,000 passengers and 4000 crew members.

According to DTCM, about 71 cruise ships with 275,000 cruise tourists are expected to dock in Dubai during the first six months of this year as an increasing number of cruise liners look to tap Dubai’s strong tourism infrastructure, air connectivity and strategic location at the crossroads of the East and West.

In 2011, the Dubai Cruise Terminal played host to 108 cruise ships with 396,500 passengers. This year, Dubai is expected to welcome 420,000 cruise tourists to the emirate, giving a big push to the emirate’s tourism and the economic growth. The projections for 2013 are 125 cruise ships and 450,000 passengers and in 2014 the number of cruise ships and passengers will be 135 and 475,000, respectively. In 2015, this number will rise to 145 cruise ships and 500,000 passengers, DTCM said.

Since 2006, Costa and Aida have been using Dubai as a cruising hub and in 2010 Royal Caribbean also started using it as its regional hub with its Brilliance of the Seas cruise ship. Other players entering the market include the German company, TUI, which is due to start using Dubai as the hub from this month, and F-ATI, which announced that it will launch its F-ATI Berlin cruise ship from Dubai during the next cruise season.

Royal Caribbean eyes more local bookings

As in previous years, Europe was the most popular cruise destination for travelers from the Middle East, according to Helen Beck, Regional Director for Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises and Azamara Club Cruises International Representatives – Europe, Middle East, Africa.

She said approximately 75% of all bookings from the region were made for European cruises, while the second most popular destination for cruise travelers from the Middle East was the Caribbean.

While all of the sailings of the Brilliance of the Seas’ third and longest season in the Middle East were nearly fully booked, the company still faced challenged in the region. “We didn’t get the revenues that we were looking for because the global trading conditions have been quite tricky over the past 18 months,” Beck told “So we were a little disappointed with our revenue, and that is something we will be focussing on.”

The Arab Spring also had an impact on the company from a destination perspective, as the Egyptian city of Alexandria was taken out of some of the cruise line’s itineraries. “But we had already taken Bahrain out of our itinerary for the cruise here in the winter, so from that perspective there was no change,” she noted.

Beck says one the challenges that Royal Caribbean faces in the Gulf is the length of its cruises. “Our cruises are seven nights when we do our rotations here, which is very much designed for international guests coming to the Gulf as they want a longer holiday,” she said. “But for local guests, they probably only want a cruise of three or four nights, and we are not compatible with that desire. So that is one inhibitor and is a difficult one for us to change.”

“However, we can do a better job of encouraging guests from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait who live a little further afield in the Gulf to come to Dubai. So to that point we are going to partner with DTCM on some initiatives to market jointly to the GCC to encourage a more regional mix on our cruises here,” she added.