DUBAI // State-of-the-art water taxis are to begin ferrying passengers along the coast of Dubai from tomorrow, in a bid to attract the well-heeled tourist and businessman. The sleek 11-metre vessels, which can move at speeds of up to 35 knots, will link hotels along Dubai's coast with popular sightseeing destinations. They will be operated by the Roads and Transport Authority. Five water taxis seating 11 passengers will ferry passengers to 18 destinations from downtown Dubai Creek to Jebel Ali. The service will run from 10am-10pm.
Customers can call the water taxi, which runs much like a regular four-wheeled cab, on a toll-free number. Tour operators hope the service will attract companies that charter boats for promotions and corporate team-building exercises. "This would be a perfect way for guys to chill out in the evening on a boat down Dubai Creek," said Premjit Bangara, the travel manager at Sharaf Travel. "Companies sometimes use trips like this as an incentive when they get managers down to Dubai for three to four days. Some companies charter boats for half a day and take the team fishing for the afternoon."
A trip to the nearest station from Al Seef, the water taxi terminal, across Dubai Creek Park would cost Dh50. The fare would reach Dh570 for journeys from Dubai Festival City to the Jebel Ali Hotel and Spa. The boat and its captain can also be hired for one hour for Dh400. Those who can afford the service will be travelling in style. The plush interiors of the vessels feature seats resembling those in an aircraft business-class cabins, and are fitted with flat TV screens. They are fully air-conditioned.
It is hoped that short city cruises will prove popular with tourists. "There is definitely a market for this because Dubai attracts tourists who typically have that kind of money," said Martin Erasmus, the general manager of Arabian Gulf Yacht Services. "You don't find backpackers in Dubai like you do in Europe. Hotels are expensive here, so high-end tourists would go on a boat ride like this." The maximum fare of Dh570, while it seemed high, was reasonable for the long trip to Jebel Ali, Mr Erasmus reckoned.
Privately-operated cruises will cost upwards of Dh200 per person for a two-hour ride, with private charters coming in at Dh3,000 per hour. "You get a different perspective of Dubai from the sea than you do from the land," he said. "Tourists want to see what it looks like from a boat." Wheelchair access to the vessels would be provided for disabled customers, said Mattar al Tayer, the Roads and Transport Authority's executive director.
The project forms part of a plan to develop the city's marine transport system to meet the needs of a cross-section of passengers, while opening up the market in new areas. However, some tourists said they would stick to the popular big tour vessels and the water abras - the small boats that run without air conditioning. Abras currently ferry about 50,000 commuters a day, while water buses carry another 1,500 people in downtown areas of Dubai.
"I wouldn't get on that [water taxi]," said Betty Oliver, an American visiting Dubai. "It's for tourists with deeper pockets." @Email:email@example.com