Introduced in 2014, this multi-entry visa is now available for passport holders from markets that had previously required separate visas for each national port of call, including India, Russia China and Brazil. In addition, the construction of a new purpose-built cruise terminal in 2015 enabled ships to dock and berth in Abu Dhabi while also offering state-of-the art facilities and features such as airline check-in, something which is not offered anywhere else in the region.
Located in Zayed Port, and developed by Abu Dhabi Ports the new Abu Dhabi Cruise Terminal marks a milestone in the Arabian Gulf’s cruise tourism journey.
Designed to welcome the surge of passengers visiting the emirate in search of a winter sunshine paradise, the state-of-the-art facility is fully equipped to host all kinds of vessels for turnaround, and home porting. Its contemporary design and infrastructure offers a welcoming gateway to international tourists to explore Abu Dhabi and the rest of the UAE.
As Al Masabi disclosed, investing in technology was another key pillar of the sector’s growth. Aiming to respond to the travellers’ demand for digitalisation and online services, Abu Dhabi Ports has recently launched Maqta Gateway which is said to be the first fully digitalised system of its kind in the UAE.
Set to redefine Abu Dhabi’s trade services, processes and information exchange through a unified interface that connects various trade customers, including shipping agents, traders, custom brokers, freight forwarders and clearing agents, Maqta Gateway is also home to various e-services offering such as port directory, vessels schedule, linear services and vessels tracking.
In addition, and as part of the emirate’s strategy to promote cruise tourism in the Arabian Gulf to the international market, TCA Abu Dhabi together with Abu Dhabi Ports have recently joined forces and participated in this year’s Seatrade Europe which took place on September 11 – 13 in Hamburg.
Abu Dhabi’s growth ambitions have been accelerated by the partnership between TCA Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi Ports and Etihad Airways in 2015, resulting in price incentives, loyalty agreements and support in tactical joint marketing.
In addition, and in an attempt to target more visitors from European countries, Etihad Airways teamed up with Geneva-based MSC Cruises in 2015 to further boost tourism through the UAE capital providing a unique opportunity to passengers to embark and disembark from Abu Dhabi.
A JEWEL IN THE ARABIAN GULF
Abu Dhabi also boasts the Arabian Gulf’s only dedicated cruise beach stopover destination on Sir Bani Yas Island, the first of its kind in the region for cruise tourism. Keeping in line with the local culture and aiming to respond to the growing demand for world-class cruise infrastructure and experiences, Sir Bani Yas Island lies 240 km west of Abu Dhabi.
Established in 1971 as a nature reserve, the island has evolved into a thriving wildlife sanctuary and is a home to the Arabian Wildlife Park, which covers half of the island and promotes breeding and rehabilitation of many animal species which roam the natural environment.
The island development is also home to three luxury hotels including Desert Islands Resort & Spa by Anantara and a host of attractions, facilities and eco-tourism excursions including also the remnants of one of the oldest Christian monastery.
Abu Dhabi Ports was responsible for developing Sir Bani Yas Cruise Beach, which was officially opened in 2016.
“Sir Bani Yas Island gives Abu Dhabi a competitive advantage, as anchoring at this multi award-winning nature conservation desert island adds a unique proposition to an already diverse array of passengers seeking a mix of luxury and adventure,” emphasised, Al Masabi.
BEYOND OIL ECONOMY
While also further supporting moves to expand economic growth beyond the hydrocarbons sector, the cruise tourism segment is showing itself to be significantly capable of boosting the UAE’s capital status as an international destination.
The increased cruise traffic is expected to bring in long-term direct and indirect economic benefits to the wider economy, for both Abu Dhabi and the UAE. Some of the positive knock-on-effects that are expected include greater activity at Abu Dhabi International Airport, expanded hotel use before and after cruise launches, more taxi and restaurant expenditures and other tourism spends.
As Saeed Al Dhaheri, manager, cruise sector and city tour development, TCA Abu Dhabi, revealed, onshore attractions such as the imminent opening of Louvre Abu Dhabi and the ever-growing awareness of Abu Dhabi as a travel destination are other central factors that are forecasted to bring about higher number of cruise guests opting for day trips ashore, and for choosing to visit greater number of attractions in the emirate.
“The diversification of our economy through investing in sectors such as tourism, trade and logistics will continue to be our leitmotif for the years to come. From our side, we will continue contributing to making the emirate’s economy more dynamic and putting Abu Dhabi at the heart of global trade and tourism,” stated Al Masabi.
Durai recognised that for the sector to be expanded further, more destinations need to be added, “One of the key elements for deciding a cruise vacation is interesting destinations.
The region should be offering more ports of call that are interesting and attractive for the global visitors,” added Durai.
In addition, and further elaborating into this, Al Dhaheri revealed that the authority will continue to focus on expanding the emirate’s penetration at regional but also international trade exhibitions while also adding new destinations for roadshows including countries such as Australia and Africa.
“The department is also working with cruise lines to extend the season in the region by launching an incentive programme with full marketing support, as well as looking to encourage companies to expand their operations to the Indian sub-continent,” Al Dhaheri said.
Taking into account the broader cultural aspects of tourism, as well as the new customer demographics, the cruise industry is looking to diversify the range of options and destination choices while also easing access for passengers from key source markets and attracting more cruise lines to home port at Abu Dhabi.
The industry is also undergoing change to keep pace with changing times.
After years of competing amongst themselves, Oman, Abu Dhabi, and Dubai are collaborating to promote cruise tourism across the Gulf from Dubai to Abu Dhabi, Khor Fakkan, Fujairah, Oman, Bahrain, and India’s West Coast.
All of these participants are building additional cruise terminals and facilities and are simultaneously working on establishing common operational and technical standards.
Over the coming years, this alliance is expected to widen to increase a greater number of participants from the Gulf and many rival established cruise destinations including those in the Caribbean region.