Abu Dhabi Cruise Terminal has recorded its highest number of international cruise passengers for a monthin the past five years.
In January 2023, more than 88,000 tourists arrived at the terminal in Zayed Port, with 42,000 on Sir Bani Yas Island, according to AD Ports Group, which operates cruise terminals in the emirate.
The record-breaking figures for January reflect ongoing growth in the UAE cruise sector, and in Abu Dhabi in particular, which has grown in recent years to join Dubai as a major homeport destination in the Arabian Gulf.
In 2019, more than 518,000 cruise visitors arrived in the emirate on 193 cruise itineraries, according to the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi (DCT Abu Dhabi).
That marked a 46% increase in cruise tourists compared to 2018 and a 43% increase in port calls, driven largely by the growing size of cruise ships interporting in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
The COVID-19 pandemic brought the global industry to a standstill, but by 2021 cruise officials in the UAE were forecasting a strong rebound, and in 2022 ahead of the 2022/23 cruise season, it was expected that this year would mark a full recovery.
Those expectations mirrored comments made by MSC Cruises, which also indicated that it saw the current winter cruise season from November 2022 to March 2023 as a bridge between the pandemic losses and full recovery in 2023.
That’s significant, as MSC Cruises alone accounts for more than half a million of all the cruise tourists that visit the UAE annually.
Both MSC and AIDA Cruises upgraded to bigger ships for the current cruise season (MSC World Europa for MSC and AIDAcosma for AIDA Cruises). These ships are the largest vessels in the fleet of both cruise lines.
Costa Cruises also upgraded its tonnage in the Arabian Gulf to Costa Toscana, its new Excel-class cruise ship, while MSC Cruises added MSC Opera to its Dubai line-up alongside MSC World Europa.
The 2023/24 cruise season is expected to see further growth with TUI Cruises upgrading to its new Mein Schiff 2 cruise ship, while MSC will bring Virtuosa and Opera to the region, and Costa will redeploy Toscana.