Tourism officials in Dubai, the primary homeport for cruise ships in the Arabian Gulf and wider Middle East, expect a full recovery of the regional cruise sector by next year.
Abdulla Binhabtoor, Chief Portfolio Management Officer at Shamal Holding, which owns Dubai Harbour, told Gulf News he expects the coming cruise season to mark further recovery ahead of a full rebound by 2023.
This mirrors comments made by MSC Cruises, which has also indicated that it sees the coming winter cruise season from November 2022 to March 2023 as a bridge between the pandemic losses and full recovery in 2023.
The most recent cruise season was extremely strong considering it was the very first season back since the Arabian Gulf reopened to cruise tourism, but still saw only half as many cruise ships as 2019/2020, and only 60% of passengers.
The coming cruise season is even stronger however, with both MSC and AIDA Cruises upgrading to bigger ships, while cruise infrastructure development is continuing apace, setting the region up for a return to pre-pandemic capacity by the 2023/24 season.
“As global tourism and travel rebound, we see 2023 as a year of continuous recovery with occupancy and capacity rates approaching levels prior to the pandemic,” said Binhabtoor.
Regarding any lingering concerns cruise passengers may have regarding COVID-19, he said the UAE was prepared.
“We are fully compliant with local and global public health measures and standards to ensure the safety and well-being of passengers and crew members docking to and from Dubai,” he added. “We’re looking forward to a successful 2022/23 season.”
There are eight cruise ships sailing roundtrip from Dubai during 2022/23, most of them on multiple itineraries for the winter season, while a further eight cruise ships will sail longer grand voyages and repositioning cruises during the year.
The UAE’s expectations of a return to pre-pandemic capacity levels by next year reflects broader forecasts across the cruise industry as a whole. The world’s two largest cruise companies, Carnival Corporation and Royal Caribbean, have both said they expect to be operating at full capacity by 2023.
“We expect each brand’s full fleet to be back in guest cruise operations for its respective summer season where we historically generate the largest share of our operating income,” said David Bernstein, Chief Financial Officer of Carnival Corporation during an investor update call in February.
Royal Caribbean International President and CEO Michael Bayley also predicted on an earnings call with investors in May that most ships should be back to full capacity by 2023.
“We have ships now sailing at 100% and we’ve had ships sailing at 100% now for several weeks out of the Caribbean, into the Caribbean market and a short product,” he added. Bailey also confirmed the cruise line’s Oasis Class ships have been sailing at 80% capacity since they resumed operations last year.