Gulf countries, including Oman and Qatar, have plans to develop their ports to receive cruise ships.
Oman, which has three ports that receive cruise ships, is undertaking huge redevelopments of its Sultan Qaboos port in the capital Muscat, Khasab port overlooking the Gulf and Salalah Port on the Indian Ocean coast.
Sultan Qaboos will cease to be a commercial port as of August this year and will be dedicated to tourism and cruise ships, with the development of new cruise berths, ferry and marina berths, souks, restaurants and other tourism facilities. Currently the port can handle at least three cruise ships a day, says Khalid Al Zadjali, the director of tourism events at Oman’s tourism ministry.
Khasab port, which has one berth to handle one cruise ship, is also upgrading its facilities for cruise liners. Salalah port is building a dedicated terminal for cruise ships.
“In Muscat, they will change the whole area surrounding the port, having a variety of projects such as hotels,” says Mr Al Zadjali.
“We see a huge potential from the cruise passengers. First of all is the strategic location of the sultanate. Secondly is the variety of options of the ports. Thirdly, Oman as a destination has a diversified product.”
Oman, Dubai and Abu Dhabi are cooperating to boost cruise tourists and working together to encourage more Gulf tourists to take cruises.
“A key part of what we are trying to do is to encourage people across the GCC who have not previously thought of taking cruises, to do so,’’ says Hamad bin Mejren, the executive director of business tourism at the Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing.
“Towards the end of last year, we announced our partnership with Oman’s Ministry of Tourism and Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority.
“We launched this partnership with a roadshow where we visited several key cities within the GCC to increase the number of residents who would consider cruise a holiday option and increase awareness of the Gulf as a leading cruise tourism destination,” he says.
Qatar, which plans to attract several million tourists a year by 2030, wants to turn the commercial Doha Port into a cruise facility to receive cruise passengers, Issa Ala Mohannadi, the chairman of the Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA), said at the Seatrade Middle East Cruise Forum held in December in Abu Dhabi.
“The presence of a home port for cruise lines would enhance not only Qatar but the Gulf’s position as a tourist destination and promote economic diversity.
“As the tourism industry develops in Qatar and across the Gulf, the cruise market can be a pillar of growth that accelerates our efforts and brings more people to discover the products on offer,” he says.
And cruise lines are enjoying an increase in domestic cruise passengers, which will allow ship operators to increase calls to Gulf ports.
“What we have been experiencing in the past months, there has been an extraordinary growth also for the domestic departures,” says Antonio Paradiso, the executive director for emerging markets at MSC Cruises.
“I would say 65 per cent of the business is outbound and the remaining 45 per cent is focusing on the domestic departures.”
MSC, which is increasing the number of cruise ships that visit Gulf ports, would like to see more development of tourist offerings in some areas, as well as the easing of visa processing – especially for non-Europeans who are unable to get visas on arrival.
“This [visa problem] is becoming more of an obstacle to the development to the Arabian Gulf and that’s one of the most attractive destinations for our cruise market,” says Mr Paradiso.
“We cannot find the same services in all of the [Gulf] regions we are calling at right now and, as you can imagine, cruise liners always want to ensure that travellers enjoy the same level of experience and the same level of standards both on board and on shore.
“The region suffers from a certain lack of diversification of ports of call because once we bring our ship there … we don’t have many options, so the ports of calls are pretty much the same every year.”