Extension of the Middle East Gulf season a real possibility

Despite the fact that land-based tourism to the Middle East Gulf region have been growing in the past five years, it is unlikely to become a year-round cruise destination in the coming decade, however there is no reason why the Middle East cruise season should not be extended into the shoulder months of October and May was the concensus at the opening session on Day 2 of the Middle East Cruise Forum, taking place in Dubai Parks and Resorts.

Youssef AlKhan, director of marketing and tourism promotion, Bahrain Tourism & Exhibitions Authority commented, ‘the market has changed now: if you look at the region in summer it used to be devoid of tourists. Whilst it is hot the situation has changed in last five years with land-based visitors coming here and enjoying themselves.’ He cited water-based experiences that are particularly popular in the summer and revealed that Bahrain has launched a deep-pearl diving experience for the summer months.

He believes that starting the season in October or even September and through to May could be working proposition.

In other parts of the world particularly in the Med and in Northern Europe winter cruising has been growing so why not the Middle East asked moderator Chris Hayman, chairman of Seatrade.

‘It is an interesting question,’ noted Steven Young, director port services and govt affairs Carnival UK. 'At P&O Cruises we have done off-season cruising to the North Cape,' he added. ‘If we can show yields for ships deployed in the Gulf is more than yields in the shoulder seasons of other regions then I am sure it would be carefully considered.’

Young and other panelists agreed that as the Indian source markets starts to grow that might provide a great opportunity for lengthening ship’s stays in the region.

Virgin Voyages’ vp of itinerary & destination development Oleman Craig Milan said, ‘all things being equal there is a strong likelihood the season could be extended but cruising is an industry that chases ticket revenue and if there were the right opportunities during the shoulders to stay here it would be a favourable option in the Gulf.’

Jean-Pierre Joubert, shorex director port development and shoreside activities MSC Cruises, noted that MSC Cruises is operating year-round in the Mediterranean and seasonally in the Middle East and feels the latter’s product offering whilst having improved quite significantly over the years needs more events in the shoulder seasons.

‘If you look at the main events in Dubai such as the Food Festival, International tennis tournaments, the Rugby Sevens they are all taking place in the winter months here.’ He suggested better collaboration with the local tourist boards to expedite more opportunities into the summer.

He also told the audience to look out for some interesting announcements regarding MSC and the 2020 World Cup in Qatar.

From the floor, Nalini Gupta, md Lotus Destinations, gsa of Costa Cruises India suggested, ‘if we focus on starting cruises in October and finishing in May then numbers from India will soar maybe not on seven night cruises but more popular would be shorter cruises of 3 or 4 nights.’

Omar Sharif Al-Marzooqi, manager cruise business and operations Mina Rashid DP World said any cruise line considering homeporting in October and/or May will be offered favourable rates with 50% discounts for cruise ships calling in these two months and any other off-season months.

Young welcomed this news and said it could make an October deployment very interesting in the overall yield management equation.

Tine Olemann, director port ops, shorex and ground ops for TUI Cruises said, ‘October deployment may be interesting and April too, but unlikely to go into May.

Neil Duncan, gm trading and planning Marella Cruises also said October would be definitely worth reviewing.