Cruise Industry

UAE-Israel normalization will support GCC cruise sector’s recovery

For the beleaguered UAE cruise sector attempting to recover from the coronavirus pandemic, the UAE-Israel ‘peace deal’ is a welcome boon.

Dubai saw its busiest cruise season on record last year, but only two cruise lines have confirmed they’ll homeport in the city for 2020/21.

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The normalization of relations between the UAE and Israel, which not only allows for the official creation of diplomatic ties between the two countries, but also includes provisions for travel and tourism, will support the Dubai cruise sector’s recovery from COVID-19.

The deal, known as the Abraham Accords, was signed at the White House on September 15th this year, and will provide the UAE cruise sector with a new source of fly-cruise passengers, while also removing US passengers’ concerns about Israeli port calls on UAE-bound voyages.

The deal, and the subsequent visa waiver, gives enthusiastic Israeli cruise tourists easy access to the Dubai cruise market.

When the first commercial flight from the UAE landed in Israel earlier this month, one of the first of a series of bilateral deals to be announced was a visa waiver between the two countries, Israel’s first with an Arab state.

The waiver means that citizens of both countries can travel to the other without having to apply for a tourist visa beforehand.

It gives Israelis the same ease of travel to the UAE as British, American and EU passport holders, all of which are major source markets for cruise lines that homeport annually in the UAE during the winter cruise season.

While Israel is not a major cruise source market, it has a significant appetite for cruise holidays. The country of just 7-million people has its own cruise line Mano Maritime, which operates a single cruise ship, Crown Iris.

The normalisation deal provides Israeli cruise tourists access to a region that has until now been off limits

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During the Israeli cruise season, which usually lasts from March through November, the ship cruises from Haifa to ports in the Mediterranean, the Black Sea and other destinations in Europe.

Because Bahrain joined the UAE in normalizing relations with Israel, it will also make more of the cruise ports on a typical Dubai cruise itinerary accessible to Israelis, and a cruise is the most convenient way for them to explore a region that has until now been off limits.

Hotels in the UAE are already preparing to offer Kosher meals to Israeli tourists, following an instruction issued by authorities in the capital, Abu Dhabi, but cruise lines have been offering both Kosher and Halal menu options for years on their Dubai cruise itineraries.

The likely appeal of a cruise holiday out of Dubai for Israeli tourists will be a boon for the UAE’s cruise sector, which was hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.

Some nine cruise ships from eight different cruise lines homeported in Dubai during the 2019/2020 cruise season, carrying more than 800,000 cruise tourists, but only two have confirmed they will be returning during the coming 2020/21 season.

In addition to making it easier for Israelis to cruise in the Arabian Gulf, the normalization agreement will also remove concerns for cruise tourists of other nationalities over whether they will be allowed into the UAE after visiting Israel.

Many cruises between Europe and Dubai call in Israel

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Many cruise itineraries from Europe to the Middle East visit Israel before transiting the Suez Canal into the Red Sea. In 2021 alone, some 20 cruise itineraries to or from Dubai will include at least one port call in Israel, while four will cruise to or from Abu Dhabi.

A further 9 cruises to or from Dubai will call in Israel during 2022.

Although it has long been an Israeli practice to provide tourists with a separate stamped document instead of stamping their passport, the normalization agreement will remove any concerns.

It will also allay any potential ethical concerns for US cruise tourists who may not have visited the UAE before because of its lack of official relations with Israel.

For all of these reasons, cruise lines are already preparing for the potential upside of the Abraham Accords, with Crystal Cruises already having rolled out a 10-day cruise from the port of Eilat to Dubai, departing in October, 2023.

It’s the first ever scheduled cruise voyage between Israel and the UAE.

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