Cruise Saudi embarks on a remarkable voyage
Cruise Saudi was launched only last year at the end of January by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund to develop the country’s cruise industry in line with Saudi Vision 2030. Within less than a year of its operations, cruise traffic in Saudi Arabia has grown five times from roughly 4,000 cruise passengers in 2020 to more than 20,000 (according to November statistics) in 2021.
Saudi weddings have taken place on MSC Bellissima, which will be homeported in Jeddah for a five-year period. Scenic Eclipse has been lapped up by corporations using it for weeklong executive summits. With multiple projects going on in the country, not least of which is the recently concluded Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, the Scenic Eclipse with its luxury fittings, will also be used as a floating hotel,” Fawaz Farooqui, interim CEO, Cruise Saudi, tells us in an interview.
“We expect to reach one million cruise passengers annually by 2028. I think it's doable. We have the resources and the destination is nothing short of amazing.”
Cruise Saudi operates cruise ports in Jeddah, Yanbu and Dammam (ready as of last year); and by 2025 aims to add a cruise port in Duba in Neom and Jizan in the south – although the readiness of the destination will also be taken into account, while opening these ports, Farooqui tells us.
At present MSC Bellissima is doing regular winter itineraries along the Red Sea, going up to Aqaba in Jordan from its home port in Jeddah. The recently unveiled MSC Virtuosa will also sail several itineraries from Dubai to Abu Dhabi, Sir Bani Yas Island, Saudi Arabia and Qatar before returning to Dubai.
“We have a seven-night itinerary on MSC Bellissima starting from Jeddah, then on to King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC), after which it will go up to Yanbu, for its cultural offering. From there people would go for excursions to Al Ula and Madinah and then it will sail all the way to Aqaba and back with two sea days to enjoy sailing.”
This Jeddah-KAEC-Yanbu-Jeddah-Aqaba-Jeddah itinerary for the winter is a result of a summer of three-to-four night itineraries to Egypt and Jordan and also of cruises to nowhere. “Last summer, we were focused on domestic and regional clientele due to the pandemic. Many of whom are new to cruising, so we started out with three to four nights’ itinerary on MSC Bellissima, basically allowing domestic travellers to experience our cruise product. Saudis would just get on there without their passports and enjoy being on a cruise ship. The second itinerary was a four-night roundtrip to Egypt and back, and we had a similar itinerary from Saudi to Jordan. These two itineraries were first time we opened cruising from Saudi Arabia to an international destination. It was a great learning.”
Saudi Arabia’s coastline is the nexus between classic Mediterranean destinations and a multitude of Indian Ocean hotspots, offering a pristine maritime route for cruisegoers from around the world. Located a mere three-hour flight from 250 million people in Europe, Asia, and Africa, Cruise Saudi’s ports and routes along the Red Sea and the Arabian Gulf will provide an ideal base for cruise passengers to discover the authentic treasures of Arabia and beyond. Cruise Saudi seeks to create 50,000 jobs in the cruise industry in Saudi Arabia by 2035.
“We'll divide the Red Sea into multiple regions. While Jeddah will be one of our largest ports and home to huge cruise liners, as you go north, it will become more and more exclusive. Just like the Galapagos, you won't see huge ships going in, but only luxury purpose-built vessels.”
Based in Jeddah, Cruise Saudi was formed to develop the infrastructure and services required to scale a full-suite cruise market along the Saudi coastline. The company, a 100 per cent Public Investment Fund-owned business, is responsible for the port development at key Saudi destinations as well as scaling cruise services, from marketing to shore coordination and vessel operations.“Cruise Saudi is cruise line agnostic but we really do care about sustainability. We want to make sure that cruise companies bring their most advanced ships out to Saudi with the best environmental measures and technology on board. We need to make sure that consumers like their cruise experience, because at the end of the day, this will increase their affinity to Saudi Arabia as a tourism destination,” says Farooqui.