On Saturday, AIDAbella departed Dubai for Palma De Mallorca, marking the departure of the last seasonal homeporting cruise ship in the Arabian Gulf and the close of the 2021/22 cruise season.
While MSC Bellissima will be remaining, sailing roundtrip from Dubai through the summer until MSC World Europa arrives in December to take over, this is a unique deployment, with all cruise ships usually only homeporting in Dubai from November to March.
The extended deployment of MSC Cruises in the Arabian Gulf out of Dubai underscores the strength of the UAE tourism sector’s recovery from the disruption wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic.
While the cruise sector has been significantly curtailed, with just five homeporting cruise ships this year compared to nine the year before, it was one of the first cruise destinations to reopen and one of the fastest to recover so much capacity in such a short space of time.
This is reflected in the wider tourism sector in the country, which Travelport, a global technology company that powers travel bookings for hundreds of airlines and thousands of hotels worldwide, says is the most recovered country in the world.
According to Travelport’s data, the United Arab Emirates has recovered to 110% of its 2019 levels, based on point of destination travel.
Dubai, the primary cruise port in the region, has currently recovered to 114% of its 2019 levels. This makes it the second most recovered city in the Middle East (after Riyadh, Saudi Arabia) and the fifth most recovered city in the world (after Punta Cana, Dominican Republic; Montego Bay, Jamaica; Cancun, Mexico and Riyadh).
The recovery looks set to continue during the 2022/23 cruise season, with five cruise ships returning to the Middle East for the winter season out of Dubai (MSC Opera, MSC World Europa, Costa Toscana, AIDAcosma, and Mein Schiff 6), in addition to several dozen cruise ships sailing international itineraries from the city.
This coming cruise season, ships like MSC World Europa, AIDAcosma, and Costa Toscana will be some of the largest that have ever homeported in Dubai, significantly increasing the city’s cruise capacity, and the wider tourism sector along with it.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, just under 1-million cruise passengers were forecast to cruise to and from Dubai during the 2019/2020 cruise season, which was cut short in early March by the coronavirus.
During the current cruise season, just over 500,000 passengers returned to the city.