Middle East Cruise News

Abu Dhabi tourist ‘safe zone’ may be used as model for cruise tourism amid COVID-19

Abu Dhabi has successfully hosted 2,500 international tourists on Yas Island for its UFC Fight Island event, which saw the creation of an 11-kilometre ‘safe zone’, a model that tourism officials have implied might be applied to the cruise sector.

Abu Dhabi’s cruise season kicks off in December, when both MSC Cruises and AIDA Cruises are scheduled to arrive in the region with MSC Fantasia and AIDAprima.

MSC Cruises (pictured) and AIDA Cruises have confirmed they will be home-porting in Abu Dhabi for the coming cruise season

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The ship’s will homeport in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, cruising roundtrip 7-night itineraries in the Arabian Gulf. While tourism officials in neither city have confirmed the reopening of cruises, in Abu Dhabi it has been implied that the Fight Island model might be applied to cruises.

“The lessons we have learned from this event will be carried forward as we continue to create new engaging experiences in a post-COVID-19 world, but at the same time take lessons we can use in other areas of events and tourism,” said Ali Hassan Al Shaiba, Executive Director of Tourism and Marketing at DCT Abu Dhabi.

Ferrari World on Yas Island was part of the tourist ‘safe zone’

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“We are extremely proud of the DCT Abu Dhabi-led ‘safe zone’ concept, which enabled us to deliver a comfortable and COVID-19-free bubble for five weeks, cementing Abu Dhabi’s position as a safe global destination offering diverse experiences,” he added.

“Our partnership with UFC Fight Island has allowed us to innovate in setting a new benchmark in creating experiences for the public despite the recent circumstances caused by the pandemic,” said Al Shaiba.

The creation of the tourist safe zone was done in partnership with the Department of Health, Abu Dhabi Police, the Department of Municipalities and Transport, Aldar Properties, Miral Asset Management, Abu Dhabi Airports Company, and Etihad Airways.

The 11 kilometre “safe zone” was locked off and completely secluded from the rest of the city for the five-week period.

Yas Waterworld was also part of the ‘safe zone’ for tourists

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UFC personnel from 35 nations, event staff and Yas Island employees underwent COVID-19 testing every 72 hours, creating a COVID-free sanctuary.

All staff and visitors were accommodated for the entire duration of the event in some of Abu Dhabi’s prime hotels, within walking distance of Yas Marina Circuit, home of the Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Yas Links Golf Course, Yas Beach, and the Flash Forum, a multi-purpose indoor venue, where the fights were staged.

The limited resumption of cruises in the Mediterranean also provides a possible model for the UAE, with MSC and Costa providing pre-boarding COVID-19 tests and enforcing a strict shore excursions policy that prevents any contact between passengers and the public.

A major hurdle to the resumption of cruises out of Dubai this coming winter cruise season, which traditionally runs from November to March, will be the ongoing travel restrictions imposed by most source markets for cruises.

If passengers are required to quarantine on return to their home countries, it will significantly impact demand for the fly-cruise experience offered out of Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

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