Cruise Arabia eyes Indian Subcontinent for cruise tourism growth

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Cruise Arabia ­- a unified partnership that brings together six GCC tourism authorities with the aim of promoting the region as a preferred winter destination for cruise travel – is looking to expand its reach to the Indian Subcontinent and has started discussions with relevant tourism bodies, delegates were told on the last day of the Seatrade Middle East Cruise Forum in Abu Dhabi, UAE.

Spearheaded by Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (Dubai Tourism)  in 2013, the Cruise Arabia membership currently includes Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi); Bahrain Tourism & Exhibitions Authority; Sharjah Commerce and Tourism Development Authority (SCTDA); Oman Ministry of Tourism (Oman Tourism) and Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA).

Sharing Cruise Arabia’s growth plans, Hamad M Bin Mejren, Senior Vice President, Stakeholders Department, Dubai Tourism, said: “Cruise Arabia has initiated discussions with the relevant ministry departments in India and we are looking to develop co-operation moving forward.  The proximity of the Indian Subcontinent is perfect for cruise tourism and we will work with cruise lines to identify itineraries originating from the Middle East for the 12-14 day duration trips in particular.”

Agreeing with Bin Mejren, Clare Ward, Director, Product & Customer Services, Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines, said: “India is hugely important to the UK market with strong historic links both from the UK and from this region.  We know there will be infrastructural challenges but the cruise growth potential is huge.”

Also part of the discussion, Christopher Allen, Vice President, Global Deployment & Itinerary Planning, Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises & Azamara Club Cruises, confirmed Celebrity, making its debut this winter, will be returning to homeport in the Gulf in 2017/18 and 2018/19 making it three consecutive seasons. The three Royal brands will collectively chalk up 50 Arabian calls this season, rising from five calls in 2014/15 and will make a record 29 calls in India this winter, some originating from the Gulf.

Also proving a topic of interesting discussion was Abu Dhabi’s intention to become the regional hub for ‘Halal Cruising’. The message was delivered by Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi) during an open panel session to senior cruise line executives, tourism authorities, industry stakeholders and global tour operators at the event.

According to Mubarak Al Shamisi, Director of Abu Dhabi Convention Bureau: “We have identified the ‘Halal Cruising’ segment as a new source market to support our ambitions to grow Abu Dhabi’s cruise passenger numbers to over 800,000 by 2025. We believe our culture, heritage and product base has great appeal with the Muslim traveller and the expansion of this product mix into the cruise segment is a natural progression to attract Muslim passengers from our key cruise markets, and stimulate regional and home-grown demand for Abu Dhabi cruises.”

Abu Dhabi’s international cruise tourism passengers are predominately sourced from Germany, United Kingdom and France, which have a combined Muslim population of over nine million people.

“When you factor in the $55 billion value of the Muslim travel market from the UAE and our closest GCC neighbours, the potential is clear to see. Our challenge is to work with all concerned to ensure that cruise lines develop the product, that this product is available to purchase through the right channels, and that it appeals to the particular travel needs of the Muslim traveller,” added Mr Al Shamisi.

The value of the global Muslim tourism market is estimated to be worth $151 billion, rising to $243 billion by 2021, according to the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.

Outlining four elements of a strategic approach to develop demand for the sector, Mr Al Shamisi added: “In partnership with international cruise lines and the travel community, we intend to deliver against priority areas to ensure our cruise products are well placed to meet specific Muslim demands on a number of fronts including food and beverage, segmented family and gender-specific products and provision of prayer facilities.”

The final day of the Seatrade Middle East Cruise Forum drew more than 200 delegates from across the region with interesting discussion around ‘Expanding source markets for Arabian Cruise Products’; ‘Protecting Passenger and Crew Health’ and ‘Port and Terminal Infrastructure and the Operating Environment’.