Middle East Cruise News

Cruise experts weigh in on reasons behind explosive growth in Dubai cruises

In the last five years the number of cruise tourists sailing from Dubai has doubled. In the coming 2018/2019 cruise season 725,000 passengers are expected to cruise from Dubai aboard one of 213 cruise itineraries, with 825,000 forecast for the following year, and more than a million by 2020/21.

According to those involved in the local cruise sector, the reasons behind this amazing success story are varied.

Samir Hamadeh, general manager of Alpha Destination Management, says that cruise tourism became the fastest growing segment of Dubai’s tourism industry after the opening of the Hamdan bin Mohammed Cruise Terminal at Port Rashid (popularly known as Dubai Cruise Terminal 3).


Four cruise ships meet in port in Dubai.

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The terminal is the largest in the world, with a capacity for 18,000 passengers a day and up to seven ships simultaneously. The most it has ever handled thus far on a single day is five.

“From ports to terminals, and on-ground support that is essential for tourists to access the destination, Dubai offers a seamless cruise experience,” says Hamadeh. “Infrastructure development is underway to add more capacity to the terminal, which is spread across two million square metres. It will transform Dubai into a fully integrated maritime tourism hub with world-class safety and comfort for travellers. The emirate plans to have 10 cruise ships based at its port.”

Hamadeh was referring to plans announced by Dubai Cruise Tourism to have a mini-metro system linking the port’s two current terminals, as well as the development of a new cruise terminal solely for luxury cruise ships.

Before the development of the cruise terminal, there were 93 cruise ship calls to Dubai (during the 2013/2014 cruise season), with just three cruise lines homeporting in the city. That has since grown by 68% to 156 ship calls in the 2016/2017 season, with five cruise lines sailing roundtrip from Dubai (that’s grown yet again to six for the coming 2018/2019 season).

Satheesh Vasudevan, general manager at Sharaf Tours, agrees that there has been “tremendous growth” in the cruise tourism sector in Dubai during the past 20 years, the vast majority of it during the previous five years alone.

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“The Cruise Arabia Forum, spearheaded by Dubai Tourism, has helped this region become a cruise hub for the winter season,” he said, referring to a cruise tourism alliance formed by Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Oman, Bahrain and Qatar aimed at promoting the region as a winter cruise destination.

“Cruise tourism to the UAE is poised to grow further in the coming years, as tourists worldwide realise that cruising is the most affordable way to experience different destinations within the region,” Vasudevan added.

While German cruise tourists currently account for around 40% of all passengers cruising from Dubai, Dubai Corporation for Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM) is actively targeting visitors from China, India, Spain, Portugal, and Russia with strategic promotional campaigns as it seeks to have one million cruise tourists visiting Dubai by March, 2021 (when the 2020/21 cruise season will end).

The other major source markets currently for Dubai cruises are Italy and the UK.

This diverse spread of cruise passengers is reflected in the number and variety of cruise lines that homeport in Dubai annually between November and March. There are Italian lines (MSC and Costa), British lines (P&O Cruises), Spanish lines (Pullmantur), German cruise lines (AIDA and TUI) and American cruise brands (Celebrity Cruises and Royal Caribbean).

“With year-round sunshine, an ever-evolving must-visit destination proposition, and a winter home port for multiple international cruise lines operating regular international itineraries out of the city, Dubai is perfectly placed for its cruise tourism offering to become a major global attraction,” says Hamad bin Mejren, senior vice-president of Dubai Tourism.

“We have been working to highlight Dubai’s ease of accessibility with the latest introduction of a multi-entry UAE visit visa exclusively for cruise tourists, as well as simplified immigration and cruise-specific visa procedures on our online portals to ensure that citizens from over 50 countries can take advantage of Dubai’s cruise tourism offering with visas on arrival,” he added.

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