By Gemma Greenwood
Cruise operator looks to emerging markets such as Dubai to stay afloat.
Cruise operator Royal Caribbean International (RCI) is looking to new emerging markets for business to ensure its business stays buoyant during the current economic crisis.
"We have implemented a strategy of growing our international business more rapidly than US business," revealed RCI regional sales director, international representatives, Europe, Middle East & Africa, Helen Beck.
"This is partly to spread our risk although the North American market is still the most mature cruise market there is.
"Are we being hurt [by the current global financial crisis]? Yes - partly because of the uncertainty. Our feeling is once this period of uncertainty comes to a close, things will improve. We figure that travel is no longer a luxury - it's a necessity - because of the stresses and strains of modern-day living."
Beck said she has spoken to RCU representatives in many of the cruise operator's emerging markets and some were proving more resilient than others - including the Middle East.
In fact, the cruise line's Middle East office has already hit its 2008 target with business increasing 30% year on year (2007-2008) with Qatar leading growth at 300%, followed by Oman (100%) and the UAE, KSA and Bahrain all up 20%.
Not only that, but RCI has made the landmark decision to redeploy one of its ships in the Gulf for the first time ever.
Brilliance of the Seas will be homeported in Dubai from 2010, initially running a series of seven-night itineraries around the Gulf between January and April of that year, details of which will be announced in the coming weeks.
Itineraries could be tweaked to different durations and even include destinations in India from 2011 onwards, depending on customer and trade feedback.
Brilliance of the Seas offers 1050 Staterooms; a ShipShape Spa & Fitness Centre; Solarium; Pool and sun deck; rock-climbing wall; golf course; jogging track; five dining venues; and much more.
Beck said she expected the itineraries to attract a wide range of passengers, from Arab Nationals and ex-pats living in the Gulf to cruisers from key source markets including the UK, Germany and Russian.
"We are looking at strong support from these markets, as well as Western European countries, Asia Pacific and South Africa, but it's really difficult to say because we have no experience of sailing from here before," she said.
"I also think the North American market will be interested and may attract some people to the region who have never been here before and are wary [rightly or wrongly] of travelling in the Middle East - knowing Royal Caribbean sails here will provide a certain degree of comfort."
Rama Rebbapragada, associate vice president, international sales and marketing for Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd, said he expected passengers from all over the globe to sail around the Gulf, very much based on the airlift provided by Emirates Airline.
"We will see people come from as far afield as Australia, Brazil and Korea," he said.
Royal Caribbean Arabia managing director Dr Abdulaziz Al-Oshban added that Arab Nationals would take seven-night cruises around the Gulf to "get away from it all" and would probably stay on board the ship for the entire duration.