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Wed 4 May 2011 06:29 PM

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GCC needs to invest to tap cruise market, say operators

Global cruise companies say region is 'one trick pony', more ports need to be developed for ships

GCC needs to invest to tap cruise market, say operators
(Getty Images)

The Gulf needs to invest more in its ports infrastructure and look to reduce vessel operator charges to tap the region's potential as a major cruise tourism destination.

While Dubai and Abu Dhabi are taking action to accommodate larger cruise ships to visit, other Gulf states are behind the game, a senior official from cruise giant Royal Caribbean said.

Addressing a major cruise seminar held in Dubai at the Arabian Travel Market, Helen Beck, director of international representatives, EMEA for Royal Caribbean, said the company would like to offer 'butterfly' options where passengers could have a choice of two different itineraries from one hub.

"We are restricted in our offering and need to be able to offer the region as a whole - the ports are there but the infrastructure is missing to cater to passenger ships rather than cargo vessels," she said.

"I do believe, looking at the map, that we could go down as far as Salalah, up to Kuwait and Bahrain and eventually to Iran and Saudi Arabia, but I don't see these ports starting to make moves to invest in their facilities," she added.

Neil Palomba, corporate operating officer for MSC Cruises, agreed there was a limited choice of ports in the region and more needed to be done to develop the infrastructure.

The company will base the MSC Lirica in Abu Dhabi from November sailing 19 cruises calling at Muscat, Fujairah, Khasab and Dubai, and he said expectations were that capacity could be increased in future with a bigger ship and more itineraries.

"Other challenges are the cost of doing business where the vessel operator charges are comparable with those in Europe, a region of high demand which sells itself," he said.

Ian Calvert of Have a Nice Stay Travel, a major supplier of cruise passengers to the region from the UK, added: "The Gulf has proved a popular destination but it is a one-trick pony in terms of itineraries and it is difficult to get repeat business ... the region needs to work together to get passengers to return more than once."

Lawrence Franklin, director of strategy and policy at the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority said Mina Zayed port was part of a major redevelopment.

"We acknowledge there is a difference between a cargo port and cruise passenger facility," he said.

In Dubai, plans are in hand to also enhance port facilities, according to DTCM's Hamad bin Mejren, who said the cruise sector had become one of the most important tourism sectors in recent years with tremendous growth in the past two years in particular.

"Plans are in place to build and expand (at the port) to accommodate future growth," he said.

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