It has been a dream of many to take a cruise around the world, and see the various places that they have only dreamed or heard of before.
Now, with the work that is being done at various ports across the UAE, and especially in Dubai, experts say that the country is sure to earn a top spot on an international list of must see cruise destinations.
Samir Hamadeh, general manager of Alpha Destination Management, told Khaleej Times that cruise tourism is one of the fastest-growing segments of Dubai's tourism industry, with the city being among the world's leading winter cruise destinations.
Key to this growth, he pointed out, is the Hamdan bin Mohammed Cruise Terminal at Mina Rashid that is set to be the largest terminal in the world, capable of handling 18,000 passengers a day.
"From ports to terminals, and on-ground support that is essential for tourists to access the destination, Dubai offers a seamless cruise experience," he said. "Infrastructure development is underway to add more capacity to the T3 terminal, which is spread across two million square metres, and is currently equipped to handle seven mega cruise vessels. It will also transform Dubai into a fully integrated maritime tourism hub with world-class safety and comfort for travellers. The emirate plans to have 10 cruise ships based at its port."
Since the inauguration of Hamdan bin Mohammed Cruise Terminal at Mina Rashid, there has been a 68 per cent increase in cruise ship calls to Dubai from 93 in the 2013-2014 season to 156 in the 2016-2017 season. According to Cruise Arabia and Africa, the number of cruise passengers in Dubai increased to 625,000 in the 2016-2017 season, compared to 320,000 in the 2013-2014 cruise season, representing a 95 per cent growth rate. Over the next cruise season 2018-2019, the tourism board of Dubai expects to see 725,000 cruise tourists and 825,000 cruise tourists in the 2019-2020 season.
"We can also attribute this tremendous growth to the variety and diversity in cruise brands and experiences awaiting cruise enthusiasts to the UAE, multiple-entry UAE visas exclusively for cruise tourists, and reduction in port charges at Dubai Cruise Terminal by 50 per cent for the upcoming season," Hamadeh said.
Moreover, he added that new technology on-board cruise ships is making cruise tourism popular among younger travellers and boosting demand in the segment. Annually, there are 27 million cruise tourists globally.
Satheesh Vasudevan, general manager at Sharaf Tours, noted that there has been a "tremendous growth" in the cruise tourism sector in the past 20 years.
"The Cruise Arabia Forum, spearheaded by Dubai Tourism, has helped this region become a cruise hub for the winter season," he said. "Cruise tourism to the UAE is poised to grow further in the coming years, as tourists worldwide realise that cruising is the most affordable way to experience different destinations within the country."
Currently, German tourists account for a 40 per cent share of cruise passengers in Dubai. In addition to traditional source markets like the UK, Italy, and Germany, the Dubai Corporation for Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM) is targeting visitors from China, India, Spain, Portugal, and Russia with strategic promotional campaigns and tie-ups to boost the emirate's cruise tourism sector and reach its target of one million cruise tourists by the end of 2021.
Hamad bin Mejren, senior vice-president of Dubai Tourism, described cruise tourism as a key industry for the Gulf region.
"With year-round sunshine, an ever-evolving must-visit destination proposition, and a winter home port for multiple international cruise lines operating regular international itineraries out of the city, Dubai is perfectly placed for its cruise tourism offering to become a major global attraction," he predicted.
"We have been working to highlight Dubai's ease of accessibility with the latest introduction of a multi-entry UAE visit visa exclusively for cruise tourists, as well as simplified immigration and cruise-specific visa procedures on our online portals to ensure that citizens from over 50 countries can take advantage of Dubai's cruise tourism offering with visas on arrival."
Hamadeh added that when it comes to cruising, people are looking for more unique and interesting experiences tailored to their requirements that are created by experts specialised in the sector. Oftentimes, people like to do something different when celebrating a birthday, wedding anniversary, family reunion, or corporate event. A cruise trip is what usually pops into their minds for such an occasion.
"The broad variety of unprecedented cruise options in the UAE - from exotic escapes to exhilarating journeys and opulent experiences - means there is a cruise for everyone, combined with a wide range of activities and excursions," he said.