Middle East Cruise News

Saudi Arabia hires former Royal Caribbean executive to build local cruise sector

Saudi Arabia has accelerated its efforts to establish the country as a cruise destination with the appointment of key executives at the newly-launched Cruise Saudi, a cruise infrastructure developer and operator.

Cruise Saudi was launched at the end of January through the Kingdom’s Public Investment Fund, with the aim of developing cruise ports and terminals in several Saudi cities, as well as supporting ancillary sectors, such as shore excursions and tourist destinations.

Saudi Arabia is developing tourism destinations on its Red Sea coast, such as the Triple Bay Wellness Resort.

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As part of Cruise Saudi’s goal of making Saudi Arabia a tourist destination on the international cruise map, and developing the tourism sector in line with Saudi Vision 2030, the organisation has hired two key global cruise executives.

Mark Robinson, previously of Global Ports Holding & Intercruises Shoreside & Port Services, and Miguel Reyna, previously of Royal Caribbean Group, will lead business growth and oversee asset development for Cruise Saudi.

Mark Robinson, previously of Global Ports Holding & Intercruises Shoreside & Port Services (left), and Miguel Reyna, previously of Royal Caribbean Group (right).

Robinson and Reyna will be guiding the infrastructure development and suite of cruise and ship and passenger services that will be scaled in the preliminary business phase for the organisation.

The establishment of Cruise Saudi to build a local cruise sector in the Kingdom is part of a wider plan by Riyadh to build a flourishing tourism sector in the country as part of its economic diversification away from oil and gas.

In April last year, Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund acquired an 8.2% stake in Carnival Corporation, the world’s largest cruise company, controlling around 45% of the global market.

The sizeable stake in the company will likely support Saudi Arabia’s efforts to encourage ships from across Carnival’s nine cruise brands to cruise to and from the country.

The Farasan Island Marine Sanctuary in the Red Sea off Saudi Arabia’s west coast is being developed as a Maldives-style tourist destination.

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According to Robinson, the country is well-placed to become a leading winter cruise destination.

” Saudi Arabia’s coastlines along the Red Sea and the Gulf Coast are some of the most attractive and intriguing destinations imaginable to establish new cruise ports and destination experiences,” he said.

“The thought that has gone into Saudi Arabia as a tourist destination under Vision 2030 and the commitment to preserving cultural and natural treasures is inspiring to say the least,” said Reyna.

“I’m excited to hit the ground running to deliver the cruise infrastructure that will make these rich and unique Saudi treasures available to all cruise guests and to make tangible economic impact for the local communities,” he added.

Cruise Saudi in August last year chartered Silversea Cruises’ ship Silver Spirit for a series of roundtrip cruises from Port Jeddah on the country’s Red Sea coast, visiting Yanbu, Ras Abyadh, NEOM, and Magna.

Magha’er Shuaib ruins near Magna, Saudi Arabia.

Magna is a port city that acts as a gateway to the ancient ruins at Magha’er Shuaib, while Yanbu is a gateway to the mountainous interior of Saudi Arabia, such as Mount Rabwa.

The cruises, managed by local cruise operators Red Sea Spirit, were the first of their kind in the Kingdom, and welcomed passengers from overseas as well as the domestic market.

Radwa Mount in Yanbu, Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia is far more conservative than Dubai, a highly westernised liberal cruise and tourism hotspot in the region, and it remains in the very early stages of establishing itself as a cruise destination.

Many questions are still to be resolved regarding passengers’ freedoms while ashore, but Saudi Arabia appears to be planning to focus more on its natural spaces and ancient UNESCO Heritage Sites than the glitz and glamour of Dubai.

What’s certain is that the move into cruise tourism is a strategic and lucrative one for the country. Cruise executives have long complained that cruise itineraries between the Mediterranean and Dubai in the Arabian Gulf suffer from a shortage of cruise destinations, often with a full week spent at sea transiting the Red Sea.

The development of cruise ports along Saudi Arabia’s west coast will therefore provide welcome diversity for cruise lines, and will likely support the wider Middle East cruise sector as more cruise ships are sent to the region for roundtrip and repositioning voyages via Dubai.

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