At the moment, cruise ships on the Red Sea only stop in the Jordanian port city of Aqaba
Saudi Arabia may one day play an important role as a stopping point for cruise ships sailing through the Red Sea, according to Royal Caribbean International’s Middle East general manager.
In an interview with Arabian Business in Dubai, Mohamed Saeed said that the company hopes to see “more destinations created for cruise passengers” across the GCC, expanding on existing port destinations in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
“Dubai and Abu Dhabi did their part,” he said. “Oman is starting this initiative and Bahrain is working on, but we need to see that.”
In particular, Saeed said that he sees enormous potential on the Red Sea coast of Saudi Arabia. At the moment, cruise ships in the Red Sea make only one port of call, in the Jordanian coastal city of Aqaba. “
“There’s just that one stop in Jordan after you pass the Suez Canal, then ships move on,” he said. “Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt are working on this, but it’s still a long-term thing. Hopefully the 2030 vision of Prince Mohammed bin Salman can create a destination in Saudi Arabia for ours ships.”
Across the region, Saeed said that the number of inbound and outbound cruise passengers has grown. For outbound passengers, the Middle East - particularly the GCC - Royal Caribbean records approximately 55,000 passengers annually, constituting 50 percent of the market share.
Despite the growing numbers, Saeed said that cruises still represent a “very, very small” percentage of the GCC’s overall tourism expenditure.
“If you take the average yield of cruises, this is not even a $300 million market,” he said.
In 2018, approximately 300,000 cruises passengers passed through Abu Dhabi’s Zayed Port and Sir Bani Yas Cruise Beach stopovers, an 18 percent increase on the year before.
Dubai, for its part, has announced plans to attract 1 million cruise tourists by 2020, with approximately 825,000 expected by the end of 2019.