Qatar’s cruise tourism sector is almost fully recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic, with cruise ship calls for the 2022/23 season having bounced back thanks to the FIFA World Cup.
Craig Upshall, tourism marketing and promotion sector, Qatar Tourism, is predicting 200,000 passengers for the coming season, due in large part to the growing size of cruise ships homeporting in Dubai.
Qatar is pursuing homeporting deals in its own right though, targeting what Upshall calls ‘the golden goose’ of cruise tourism.
“Our business heading into 2022-2023 is back to pre-COVID. Based on the size of ships, we’ll see an increase in the number of passengers,” Upshall told Cruise Industry News.
Qatar gets much of its cruise calls from ships homeporting in Dubai and sailing weekly Arabian Gulf itineraries through the winter months between November and March.
However, Qatar Tourism wants to see more inter-porting (where cruise ships offer additional ports as turnaround points).
“(Homeporting) is the golden goose,” he said. “We get interporting from some of the megaships, such as Costa, MSC and TUI.”
Going forward, Qatar wants to take a greater share of the turnaround market, with Qatar Airlines, currently the world’s largest international air carrier, offering convenient connectivity between Doha in Qatar and major source markets around the world.
“We’re heavily promoting it as a cruise destination for existing tonnage that comes in and homeports in other areas, and maybe shift some of that share (to Doha),” explains Upshall.
Qatar is investing heavily in cruise infrastructure to enhance the appeal of Doha as a turnaround port. A new cruise terminal will open this summer in the capital, Doha, with the capacity to handle two megashipssimultaneously.
The Doha Grand Terminal will be able to welcome 14,000 guests per day, while smaller marinas nearby are being marketed to smaller, luxury cruise lines.
Long-term plans include building a dedicated facility for smaller luxury ships. Similar plans have been outlined by DP World, the operator of the Dubai Cruise Terminal in Port Rashid, but have not yet come to fruition.
With cruise lines getting back to traditional itinerary planning windows, with port bookings coming in for 2023, 2024 and beyond, Upshall says the opportunities for Qatar to grow its cruise destination credentials are significant.
Qatar Tourism wants to increase tourist arrivals overall from 2 million to 6 million per year by 2030. If the country’s share of the cruise tourism market increases proportionally, it’ll see 600,000 cruise tourists by then.
At the time of writing, Emerald Cruises is the only cruise line to have announced a homeporting season in Doha alone, rather than inter-porting as cruise lines based in Dubai do.
However, with Qatar hosting the FIFA World Cup later this year, it will have an opportunity to showcase the country as a cruise destination.
MSC Cruises will be basing two ships in Doha throughout the tournament, using them as floating hotels. One of these vessels, MSC World Europa, will be the cruise line’s newest ship, and largest to date.
MSC World Europa will then sail to Dubai, where she will commence a winter cruise season between November and March, becoming the largest cruise ship ever to homeport in the Arabian Gulf and wider Middle East.