The Middle East should prepare to capitalise on the world shipping industry’s increasing focus on the East according to discussions at the Seatrade Middle East Maritime (SMEM) conferences held in Dubai 19-20 October 2011.

Hosted by the Government of Dubai, Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM), Dubai Cruise Terminal and DP World, the Seatrade Middle East Cruise Convention attracted senior industry leaders and international operators that address the broader economic impact of cruise tourism as the region’s hubs report record passenger arrivals and positive growth indicators for the 2012 season.

“Over the past ten years, the Middle East has seen significant growth in cruise tourism to the region with more cruise lines than ever looking to deploy in the region or expand their itineraries to this exciting part of the world; and this has positioned the industry as a integral part of the future development strategy of the region’s key tourism hubs,” said Chris Hayman, Chairman of Seatrade, organiser of the Middle East Cruise Convention.

“In addition to Dubai, which is a hub for cruise tourism, Abu Dhabi, Oman and other cruise ports in the region have reported a surge in cruise visitor numbers in recent months. Meanwhile, the Red Sea ports are also attracting significant cruise capacity and the prospects for North African ports are likely to be boosted by the expansion of winter cruising in the Mediterranean,” added Hayman.

In Dubai alone, the number of visiting cruise ships has more than quadrupled over the last five years with recent DTCM figures forecasting a growth in cruise passenger numbers into Port Rashid of 50,000 year-on-year reaching 625,000 visitors by 2015 against an expected total of 425,000 in 2011.

With ongoing regional commitment from international cruise brands such as Costa Cruises, Royal Caribbean International and AIDA Cruises, Abu Dhabi’s Mina Zayed port will add capacity to the 2012 season following MSC Cruises’ decision to base its 59,000 ton MSC Lirica vessel in Abu Dhabi’s Mina Zayed Port from this October, adding up to 39,000 annual cruise arrivals to the market.

Looking ahead to winter 2012/13, TUI Cruises’ Mein Schiff 2 will make its Middle East debut with weekly round-trip cruises from Dubai to Oman, Abu Dhabi and Bahrain. According to recent figures from Oman’s tourism ministry and Mina Qaboos Port, passenger arrivals into Muscat are forecast to exceed 300,000 by 2015, supported by infrastructure investment that will see the transformation of the capital’s existing facility into a dedicated cruise port; and both Both Abu Dhabi and Doha also have new cruise facilities under development