Not plain sailing for Costa as it downsizes Gulf cruises

Costa Cruises is bringing fewer passengers to the UAE and the Gulf this season because of the unrest in the Arab region.

Costa Cruises is bringing fewer passengers to the UAE and the Gulf this season because of the unrest in the Arab region. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
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Costa Cruises is reducing the number of passengers it brings to the UAE and the Gulf this season because of regional unrest.


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The Italian company, one of the biggest operators of cruises in the region, has scrapped plans to base two ships in Dubai for the winter cruising season from the end of this year through to April. Costa has opted instead to sail one larger cruise ship out of the emirate.

"In our case we will have a slight reduction [in passenger numbers]," said Gianni Onorato, the president of Costa Cruises. "Last year we had two ships. This year we have only one - but it is a bigger one.

"The cancellation of Bahrain has not been enough. We had planned some months ago to have two ships here. We took the decision in May to divert one of the ships and we moved it to the Caribbean. There is a perception of the Mediterranean and North Africa with the Middle East. Bahrain has contributed in a way."

Costa removed Bahrain from its itinerary for its regional cruises earlier this year because of protests in the country.

Last season, the company had the 2,826-passenger Costa Deliziosa and 2,260-capacity Costa Luminosasailing out of Dubai on cruises around the region. This year, it will operate only the 3,800-passenger Costa Favolosa out of Dubai.

Destinations that serve as home ports for cruise ships enjoy significant economic benefits because passengers who fly in often spend days before or after the cruise in those places.

Other economic benefits for the destinations include crew expenditure, port fees and fuel. Places visited on the cruises, which include Abu Dhabi and Muscat around the Gulf, also benefit substantially. A 2,000-passenger ship brings an average revenue of about Dh1 million (US$272,000) to each port of call, according to Seatrade, a shipping communications company.

Mr Onorato said booking trends for cruises were also being negatively impacted by "the overall economic situation", so the company had not yet decided whether it would add more cruises to the region next year.

"We're not living overall in the world at a very nice moment. We're really looking at every little detail before taking a final decision. People like to wait because they're trying to understand what's going on tomorrow."

The Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing is still forecasting an overall increase in the number of cruise passengers coming to Dubai because MSC Cruises is launching its first sailings out of Abu Dhabi at the end of this month.

There is growing competition among operators in the region.

"Royal Caribbean International is extending its third consecutive season in the Gulf region to six months - which runs from November 2011 through to the end of April 2012," said Helen Beck, the cruise operator's regional director for Europe, Middle East and Africa.

Costa has decided not to reintroduce Tunisia and Alexandria in Egypt to its cruises for the coming season.

Operators, including Royal Caribbean, last week highlighted concerns about piracy, which has driven up the insurance and security costs involved in sailing to the region.

Mr Onorato said more still needed to be done by the region to develop other cruise destinations.

"There is a strong presence of Dubai and much less of the other destinations. They're starting to be more active. Dubai cannot be the only destination that we're able to sell," he said.

"We need to develop the other destinations in the region. We think this part of the world can be a very, very appealing destination, especially for winter cruising."