The recently concluded Seatrade Middle East Cruise Forum revealed strong growth in the Middle East cruise market, with the UAE’s ports of Dubai and Abu Dhabi set to welcome 1.5-million cruise visitors by 2020.
However, Mubarak Al Shamisi, Director of Abu Dhabi Convention Bureau, pointed out that most of these cruise passengers will be international travellers, while Muslim cruise passengers are a source market of great potential for Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
‘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,” he said during the Seatrade Middle East Cruise Forum. “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.”
He added that this would stimulate regional and home-grown demand for Abu Dhabi cruises. While his comments naturally focused on Abu Dhabi cruise market, they can be applied to Dubai as well, which remains the region’s primary cruise hub.
Abu Dhabi’s international cruise tourism passengers are predominately sourced from Germany, the United Kingdom and France, which have a combined Muslim population of over nine million people, while Dubai is also popular with Indian and Chinese cruise tourists.
‘When you factor in the US $55 billion value of the Muslim travel market from the UAE and our closest GCC neighbours, the potential is clear to see,” Al Shamisi added. “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.”
The value of the global Muslim tourism market is estimated to be worth US $151 billion, rising to US $243 billion by 2021, according to the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, with the cruise segment thus far tapping only a fraction of the market.
There are a number of reasons for this, primarily centred around the fact that prospective Muslim cruise passengers worry that they will not have access to Halal food and adequate pray facilities on-board. Most cruise ships have a ‘chapel’, but not a mosque.
Al Shamisi outlined four elements of a strategic approach to develop demand for the sector.
“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,” he said.