The first cruise ship to use Abu Dhabi as its base is expected to bring an Dh80 million (US$21.7m) windfall to the emirate this season, says the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority.
MSC Cruises, based in Italy, will operate its first cruises around the Gulf out of Abu Dhabi from this week until the end of the season in April. The MSC vessel Lirica arrived from Genoa on Saturday night.
The cruise industry “has been prioritised as a core pillar in Abu Dhabi’s tourism targets” and is aiming to attract 300 ships carrying about 600,000 passengers by 2030, say government officials in the capital.
“Passengers are flying in before the ship departs, sometimes staying after the ship departs, so you get the accommodation bonus, which is very important to us at the moment,” said Lawrence Franklin, the director of strategy and policy at the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA).
“Also there’s a lot of things in terms of ship reprovisioning, food, beverage, fuel, maybe sometimes some inshore repairs.”
With Lirica expected to bring 41,000 visitors into Abu Dhabi this season, the ADTA estimates direct economic input will total Dh80m, including airline, accommodation and retail spending.
MSC Cruises says that next year it will bring a second, bigger ship to Abu Dhabi, carrying 54,000 passengers.
“Other operators have already been talking to us,” said Mr Franklin. “We’re actively expecting that there will be more announcements for the 2012-2013 season.”
Royal Caribbean and Costa Cruises, which offer cruises around the Gulf, use Dubai as their home port.
MSC Cruises said there was still some “fine tuning” to be done.
“There is a lot of organisation, logistics, a learning curve for everybody, from the customs, immigration authorities, to understanding how a terminal must be organised and above all for the logistics of the arrival and the departure of the passengers through all the airlines,” said Pierfrancesco Vago, the chief executive of MSC Cruises.
He also raised the issue that many passengers for the cruises out of the UAE had to purchase expensive multiple-entry visas as the ship enters and re-enters the country, a problem to which other operators sailing out of Dubai have called attention.
The threat of piracy beyond the Gulf has also been highlighted as an issue, and it raises insurance and security costs for vessels.
“The piracy has now spread throughout all the Indian Ocean,” said Mr Vago.
“The Gulf is very well protected. However, we are discussing with the local authorities, with the Oman authorities.”
Abu Dhabi has set up a temporary tented terminal at Mina Zayed, which will be used for the next two cruise seasons. But there are calls for a more permanent structure. Mina Zayed is the most likely location for a permanent terminal, although other places in the capital were being considered, the ADTA said.
“At the moment we do have challenges because we have a port which is predominantly a container and working port,” said Mr Franklin.
“Obviously our longer-term plan is to look at how we can facilitate and construct a permanent facility, probably within the Mina Zayed environs.
“There’s active plans for development of the Sheikh Khalifa port, which will mean the relocation of most of the container operations, which will open up a lot of possibilities to do something attractive here,” he said.
Research by the ADTA shows almost a third of cruise passengers return to the port where a vessel is berthed for a longer stay after a cruise ends.