The Middle East is still considered an emerging market in the cruise travel industry, but experts are predicting exciting times ahead for the region.
Families will be the driving force behind double-digit growth over the next few years, a panel of industry specialists agreed during a discussion 'Sea of Change', which was part of the 2018 Arabian Travel Market concluded in April.
In 2017, slightly over 400,000 passengers from the Middle East took to the high seas, a number that has steadily been growing. Since 2013, the region has witnessed double digit growth, especially with the home ports like Port Rashid and Port Khalifa becoming more active.
Speaking about the trends in the Middle East, Mohamed Saeed, general manager, ME, Royal Caribbean International, said spending quality time with the family remains the biggest selling point for cruise liners, but there was also a growing number that wanted to experience 'expedition and river cruising'.
“We see the numbers increasing and the growth potential very exciting. Given the region we are in, families remain our biggest focus of attention. The Mediterranean and Europe are the most popular destinations, followed by the United States and the Caribbeans, but expedition cruises, like ones to Alaska, are also becoming popular,” said Saeed.
Proximity of a cruise ship in the region would be the best way to promote the business, Saeed felt.
“If one of the ships is docked here, you can do a lot of things, like provide customers and travel agents with a first-hand experience of what to expect with visits, or a one- or two-day stay on board,” he added.
Lakshmi Durai, CEO, CruiseExplore, said the business was definitely booming in the region but the travel agents needed to be better trained, and agencies needed to be given better payment terms and cancellation options for faster growth.
“Given the number of Asian expats we have here, getting visas is always an issue. The cancellation and payment terms in cruise industry are very strict. You cannot make a late cancelation like you can with hotel bookings. So, it would help if the cruise liners become more lenient with their terms and conditions,” said Lakshmi a veteran of the industry for over 20 years now.
“Also, the travel agents are afraid to suggest cruises as an option for holiday goers. The biggest reason is that they are not educated about it themselves. There are so many options available – agents need to customise the offer to clients and understand their needs better. We need to make the first experience a memorable one to get repeat orders and also word-of-mouth publicity.
“But yes, the business is getting bigger and bigger. Apart from the vacationers, we are also getting a lot of Mice and destination wedding queries.”
It’s not just that the Middle East is waking up to cruise travel, there is a worldwide increase in the numbers.
“There are 1.3 billion people who go on a holiday each year, and only 27 million of them go on a cruise. That number is increasing rapidly and we have grown 25 per cent over the last five years as an industry,” informed Kyriakos Anastassiadis, CEO and Chairman of Celestial Cruises and the Cruise Liners International Association (CLIA).
* For more cruise news, turn to page 14
TTN is the most established trade publication in the Middle East distributed on a controlled circulation basis to members of the travel and tourism industry.
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