Abu Dhabi expects another record-breaking cruise season. Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority anticipates the annual growth rate of 2016-2017 season to exceed more than 10% following a successful 2015-2016 season and a strong start to the season.
TCA Abu Dhabi now estimates cruise passenger arrivals at 250,000 this season, which runs from October 2016 to the summer months, reaching 450,000 by 2020 and 808,000 by 2025.
"This is now Abu Dhabi’s longest ever cruise season where we will welcome 139 ship calls to Abu Dhabi and 39 to Sir Bani Yas Island," said Saif Saeed Ghobash, the director general of TCA Abu Dhabi.
"This season we welcome the home porting of Celebrity Constellation, MSC Fantasia and Aida Cruises and have nine regional rotational callers confirmed – which is the highest ever – and expect 10 maiden callers.
"Together with Abu Dhabi Ports and Etihad Airways we have been actively pursuing opportunities to achieve greater levels of growth through developing long-term partnerships and cooperation, which adds more value to the services and facilities we offer."
The increase in passenger numbers is likely to be further boosted as Abu Dhabi is set to become the regional hub for "halal cruising". TCA Abu Dhabi is working on new initiatives to encourage cruise lines to cater for the needs of Muslim travellers and stimulate regional and home-grown demand.
TCA Abu Dhabi has already partnered HalalBooking.com – a leading online halal accommodation booking platform – and many local destination management companies are now supporting international operators with halal products, the agency said.
The cruise sector in Abu Dhabi also reported record numbers of ship calls and passengers arriving in the emirate during the October to June season last year and marked the successful launch of the Arabian Gulf’s only dedicated cruise beach stopover.
During the season, Abu Dhabi received more than 100 ship calls for the first time and welcomed more than 228,000 passengers.
The previous season, Abu Dhabi reported 94 ship calls and 200,000 passengers. Ten years ago just 35,000 passengers visited and 29 ship arrivals were reported in the emirate.
Tourists from Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom made up 80 per cent of cruise visitors to Abu Dhabi in the 2015-2016 season.
Towards the end of last year, Sir Bani Yas Cruise Beach was opened in the Western Region and is now the Gulf’s only dedicated desert island cruise stopover, which is expected to attract more than 60,000 passengers in its first season.
The official launch coincided with the arrival of the MSC Fantasia, which has made the Abu Dhabi Cruise terminal its winter sun home port.
"Our strategic intervention is strengthening the cruise sector’s influence on the tourism economy and contributing to the emirate’s economic diversification," said Mr Ghobash.