International cruise-ship operators have cut Bahrain from Gulf itineraries for the rest of the season, because of the protests in the kingdom.
As a result millions of dollars will be lost in revenue and Bahrain will suffer a setback to the development of the sector that is a key part of its tourism strategy.
Costa Cruises, the Italian line, will not visit Bahrain for the rest of the season, which has one more month to run after starting in November. Instead, Costa’s ships will stay in Muscat, Oman, for an extra night.
Other smaller companies have followed Costa’s suit by avoiding Bahrain, tour operators said.
A 2,000-passenger ship brings an average revenue of about Dh1 million (US$272,250) to each port of call, according to research by Seatrade, a shipping communications company.
“Safety of the passengers always comes first,” said Gamal Sadek, the general manger of Al Ketbi Consultancy, Costa Cruises’ representative office for the GCC.
“Accordingly, we decided to take Bahrain out of the schedule.”Cruise ships stopped going to Bahrain last month because of the unrest.
During the last season, 150,000 tourists stopped off in Bahrain on cruise ships.
“It would have an impact on returns for us,” said Mohan Kutty, the general sales manager at Kanoo Travel, which organises excursions for tourists coming into Bahrain on cruise ships. “To the island it’s a big blow. It is a setback.
“It is not only a main way of bringing in tourists in a large number, but it also reaches out globally for the country.
“Hopefully in the coming season when things go back to normal we are looking forward to them coming to the country.”
Costa also stopped sailing to Alexandria in Egypt, replacing the destination with calls in Greece or Israel.
Meanwhile, visits to Tunisia have been replaced by stops in Spain, Malta and Italy. But the cruise line has now restored some of its Red Sea itineraries.
Royal Caribbean last month cancelled all upcoming visits to Egypt through to June.
Cruise ships bring in income that includes port fees, fuel costs, as well as tourist and crew expenditure in the destinations visited.
The region as a whole is focusing on growing the industry, which is an important driver of tourism.
Abu Dhabi has plans to attract 300 ships and more than 600,000 passengers a year by 2030.
The capital will serve as a home port for one of MSC Cruises ships from October. This brings in extra revenues, as tourists fly into the emirate for the start of a cruise.
The number of ships calling in Dubai last year reached 120, bringing in 325,000 passengers. This year, Dubai, already well established as a home port, is expecting to attract 135 cruise ships, with 375,000 passengers, according to the Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing.
The department has cited the cruise industry as playing a major role in filling the 10,000 rooms it expects to add this year, with passengers who fly into the emirate for the cruises often staying in Dubai before and after the tours.
“Brilliance of the Seas [sailing from Dubai] is completely sold out,” said Lakshmi Durai, the executive director for the Middle East for Royal Caribbean, adding that there had not been any cancellations. Royal Caribbean last year decided to drop Bahrain from its cruise itinerary in the region after one season, citing negative feedback from passengers on the destination.
Bahrain was also forced to postpone this year’s Formula One Grand Prix, resulting in estimated losses of up to $600m, with hotels missing out on business from the single largest event for the country’s tourism industry.