The cruise operator views the Gulf as a major growth area for its business, and statistics for cruise traffic in Dubai bear that out.
According to Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing, the emirate witnessed a 65% year-on-year increase in cruise traffic in 2008, and is forecasting 316,000 passengers this year, a growth of 58% on last year.
At present Dubai’s cruise industry is primarily served by European-based operator Costa Crociere, which began offering winter cruises in the Gulf three years ago.
Now with two ships serving the region under its Costa Cruises brand, and one under its AIDA Cruises brand, Costa Crociere brought 105,000 tourists to Dubai in the 2007-08 winter season, and the figure is projected to rise to 178,000 during the 2008-09 season.
Royal Caribbean plans to deploy one ship in the Gulf – The Brilliance of the Seas – which has a capacity of up to 2,500 passengers. The operator is projecting that it will serve 32,000 cruise tourists in its upcoming four-month winter season that is scheduled to begin in January 2010.
Each seven-day cruise will begin in Dubai, then over the course of its journey it will stop in Muscat, Fujairah, Abu Dhabi, and Bahrain, before returning to Dubai, said Helen Beck, the regional sales director at Royal Caribbean.
Prices will begin at about $700-$800 per person, which includes food, entertainment and activities. Guests will have to pay extra for alcoholic drinks, spa treatments, and excursions.
Value for money
Beck says the price of a cruise is good value for money compared to land-based stays, which is one factor that is helping the industry cope with the financial crisis. ‘We as an industry are probably outpacing other ones in getting through this difficult year. We like to refer to ourselves not as recession proof, but recession resilient,’ she said.
Like other companies in the tourism industry, Royal Caribbean has had to adjust its rates to attract business. ‘We are filling our ships, but not always at the revenues we would want. We manage pricing on a yield management basis, so when the demand is there to increase rates we will. But it’s one of those years where everything is changing a little bit. The rule book has gone out the window,’ she said.
One of the challenges the cruise industry faces is a stereotypical belief – dating back to the days of the QE2 – that taking a cruise is expensive, boring, and offers nothing else to do but eat.
‘We have worked really hard to show that is not what a cruise is,’ Beck said. ‘A cruise is about choice. There is so much to do. If you want to be active, you can climb our rock walls or run around our jogging track. People are getting that message now.’
Asked about the rise of piracy in the Gulf of Aden and how it might impact Royal Caribbean’s operations in the Gulf, Beck said the company has beefed up security and is monitoring the situation closely.
‘A few guests have been asking how we will handle it. We have a department that is responsible for handling the safety of our guests and crew, and the man who runs it used to be the number three person in the FBI,’ she said.
For the most part, the route of The Brilliance of the Seas will avoid the current trouble spots. ‘If you pick up the cruise in Dubai you will be nowhere near that part of the world [where the piracy is]. The furthest you would be is Muscat, and the pirates haven’t been anywhere near there.
‘Are we concerned? Yes, quite rightly as any company in our business would be. Are we comfortable we are doing everything we can? Yes. And will we take any further action if we feel we need to? Absolutely,’ she said.