Royal Caribbean’s decision to homeport Odyssey of the Seas in Israel for the upcoming summer cruise season underscores the growing importance of the Middle East cruise market.
It’s unlikely that Royal Caribbean’s decision to homeport its newest cruise ship Odyssey of the Seas in Israel is directly linked to the recent normalization in relations between the UAE and Tel Aviv, but the move underscores the benefits of working together for both countries.
Following the normalization of relations between Israel and the UAE, experts agreed that there would be manifold benefits for both countries, in the areas of IT, trade, finance, defence and of course tourism.
In the few months since the normalization deal, known as the Abraham Accords, was announced, more than 130,000 Israeli tourists have visited the UAE. Official figures for the number of Emirati tourists that have visited Israel have not yet been released, but it is likely to be significant.
The growing tourist numbers between the two countries obviously supports the wider tourism industry in the Middle East, but also gives the beleaguered cruise industry a shot in the arm.
The UAE and Israel are under four hours away by air, and Israel is one of the largest domestic cruise markets in the region, with Norwegian Cruise Line alone carrying around 85,000 Israeli cruise passengers annually.
While that’s small compared to more established markets like North America or Europe, it’s large when compared to the wider Middle East, which accounts for around 100,000 cruise tourists annually (this doesn’t include the huge expatriate populations of most GCC countries).
Normalization then has enabled cruise lines to tap both markets when cruising from either Haifa in Israel or Dubai in the UAE, and with the Mediterranean well-known to be a favourite cruise destination among Arab cruise tourists, there will likely be many Emiratis booking voyages for Odyssey of the Seas’ season out of Israel.
Similarly, when the cruise industry in the Arabian Gulf opens back up, many Israeli cruise tourists are likely to choose to visit the UAE from the comfort and convenience of one of the cruise ships homeporting in Dubai.
Royal Caribbean has also indicated that it will be favouring cruise markets with a high vaccination density, and notably highlighted the fact that its cruises from Israel aboard Odyssey of the Seas will feature fully vaccinated crew and passengers.
The UAE and Israel are the two leading nations globally in terms of vaccinations per capita. In fact, the UAE hit 60% vaccination density in March, while similar figures have been released for Israel.
Normalization between the UAE and Israel has also removed any passport and visa complications international cruise tourists might have previously faced when sailing on cruises that visited Israel and terminated in the UAE.
The Middle East cruise market is of growing interest to major cruise lines, but a relative shortage of destinations between the Suez Canal and the Arabian Gulf has always been of concern to itinerary planners.
The opening up of Saudi Arabia to cruise tourism will play a far greater role in mitigating this challenge, but friendly politics between Abu Dhabi and Tel Aviv will also help, as Israel can become an embarkation port in its own right for cruises ending in the Arabian Gulf.
This will support the growth of the UAE cruise market by making it more convenient and more cost-effective for cruise lines to homeport in the Arabian Gulf annually. Crucially, it’ll make selling grand voyages between the Med and the Gulf easier too.