Seatrade Middle East Cruise Forum ends on positive note for the region

Mumbai - one of five Indian ports identified by the Indian government for cruise infrastructure upgrading - is leading the charge as the country aims

to capture more calls and generally grow its engagement with cruising delegates heard on Day 2 of the Seatrade Middle East Cruise Forum, which took place at Dubai Parks and Resorts in Dubai, UAE, from 12-13 December 2017.
A new cruise terminal building is under construction in Mumbai which involves a $50m investment as an expansion of the Gateway to India's current facility.
“The new terminal will be ready by May 2019 and represents a 10 fold increase in size to the present facility,” said Shri Yashodhan A Wanage, Deputy Chairman, Mumbai Port Trust. “The operation and management of the new terminal will be a public-private partnership and a tender will be issued soon,” he added. Mumbai currently attracts around 65 calls a year which up to two years ago were mainly transit calls. In a new development, Costa has recently returned for a second homeporting season.
This was the first time that a delegation from India were amongst delegates and represented on stage by Dr Suman Billa, Joint Secretary (Tourism), Ministry of Tourism, Government of India and Shri Yashodhan A Wanage, Deputy Chairman, Mumbai Port Trust.  Both gave a rallying cry of the ‘dawn of cruise tourism in India’ and asked stakeholders to work together to help the growth of cruise tourism to the main ports of Mumbai; Goa; Mangalore; Chennai and Cochin – all of which have been identified by the Government of India for cruise development - and also the potential of interporting with Sri Lanka and the Maldives.
The ‘Link with India’ session followed an insightful debate about whether the cruise season in the Gulf could start earlier and finish later…which most on the panel agreed was possible by extending into the shoulder months of October and May. The consensus was that it was unlikely that the region would become a year-round cruise destination.
Yousef AlKhan, Director of Marketing and Tourism Promotion, Bahrain Tourism & Exhibitions Authority (BTEA) told delegates: “The market has changed now: if you look at the region in summer it used to be devoid of tourists. Whilst it is hot the situation has changed in last five years with land-based visitors coming here and enjoying themselves.” He cited water-based experiences that are particularly popular in the summer and revealed that Bahrain has launched a deep-pearl diving experience for the summer months.
He told delegates that starting the season in October or even September and through to May could be a working proposition.
Challenging the panel, Chris Hayman, Chairman of Seatrade and moderator of the session, asked why other parts of the world, particularly in the Med and in Northern Europe, had seen the growth of winter cruising and could that not be possible for the Middle East?
Steven Young, Director, Ports Services & Government Affairs, P&O Cruises & Cunard, Carnival UK, commented: “At P&O Cruises we have done off-season cruising to the North Cape. If we can show yields for ships deployed in the Gulf is more than yields in the shoulder seasons of other regions, then I am sure it would be carefully considered.”
He and other panellists agreed though that as the Indian source markets starts to grow, that might provide a great opportunity for lengthening ship’s stays in the region.
Newcomer to the event, Craig Milan, VP of Itinerary & Destination Development, Virgin Voyages, said: “All things being equal, there is a strong likelihood the season could be extended but cruising is an industry that chases ticket revenue and if there were the right opportunities during the shoulders to stay here it would be a favourable option in the Gulf.”
Jean-Pierre Joubert, Shore Excursions Director, Port Development and Shore Side Activities, MSC Cruises, noted that MSC Cruises is operating year-round in the Mediterranean and seasonally in the Middle East and feels if the Gulf region is going to extend its season that more events are needed in the shoulder seasons.
 “If you look at the main events in Dubai such as the Food Festival, international tennis tournaments and the Rugby Sevens, they are all taking place in the winter months here.” He suggested better collaboration with the local tourist boards to expedite more opportunities into the summer.
He also told the audience to look out for some interesting announcements regarding MSC and the 2020 World Cup in Qatar.
Omar Sharif Al-Marzooqi, Manager - Cruise Business & Operations, Mina Rashid, DP World added that any cruise line considering homeporting in October and or May will be offered favourable rates with 50% discounts for cruise ships calling in these two months and any other off-season months.  An announcement welcomed by the cruise lines.
With other hot cruise topics under the spotlight, the two day event has seen interesting debate and discussion between 17 cruise line executives (representing 14 of the world’s leading cruise lines) and more than 160 regional industry stakeholders who also enjoyed magnificent hospitality at Dubai Parks and Resorts, hosts of the event.
Day 1 saw upbeat presentations during which Issam Kazim, CEO, Dubai Corporation of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DCTCM) confirmed that Dubai remains on track to receive one million cruise passengers by 2020.
Addressing delegates, he also referenced DCTCM’s plan to ensure that cruise passengers felt the ‘soul’ of Dubai and there would be an extra concentration on excursions that show the heritage of the city and its older parts…as well as the more modern areas and attractions.
Esam Ahmed, Commercial Manager, Mina Rashid & Mina Hamriyah, DP World, highlighted the growth plans for Mina Rashid cruise port which includes the allocation of additional berths to handle up to 7 mega ships (up from the current 6) and the development of a new terminal to meet market demand by 2020.
Delegates also heard that Abu Dhabi welcomed a record 315,000 cruise visitors in 2017 – nearly 40,000 more than the previous year.  Oman’s Mohammed Zahran Al Mahruqi, Program Director, ASYAD spoke of the infrastructural port growth plans, while Bahrain’s Yousef AlKhan, Director of Marketing & Tourism Promotion, Bahrain Tourism & Exhibitions Authority (BTEA) told delegates of the 45% increase in cruise passengers in the 2016-2017 season to 76,185.  Dubai’s Hamad Mohammed Bin Shaik Mejren, Senior Vice President, Stakeholders Department, Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (Dubai Tourism) reiterated the city’s aim to reach the 1m cruise passenger ambition.
As a final comment at the end of the key industry event, Chris Hayman concluded: “Cruise tourism within the Arabian Gulf has experienced explosive growth over the past five years with more ships joining the winter-based fleet next year and a wider variety of destinations engaged. The prospects for greater connectivity for the region to the Indian Subcontinent and the improved rebate regime for cruise vessels offered by the Suez Canal Authority are two important factors which will further support cruise deployment decisions in the region moving forward.”
The Seatrade Middle East Cruise Forum has become a fixture on the regional cruise event calendar and this year was sponsored by Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (Dubai Tourism); DP World and Emirates Airline as Platinum Sponsors, along with gold sponsors, Department of Culture & Tourism, Abu Dhabi; Bahrain Tourism and Exhibitions Authority (BTEA); Ministry of Tourism, Sultanate of Oman; and silver sponsors, dnata; Drydocks World - Dubai and Inchcape Shipping Services.
Cruise lines represented included:  AIDA Cruises; Carnival UK; Crystal Cruises; Cunard; Cruise & Maritime Voyages; Marella Cruises, TUI Group; MSC Cruises; P&O Cruises; Pullmantur Cruceros; Royal Caribbean Cruise Ltd; TUI Cruises GmbH; Star Clippers; Windstar Cruises; Virgin Voyages. 


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