Dubai to become base for RCI cruise ship?


DUBAI is set to become the new home port for one of the world’s biggest cruise ships.
Royal Caribbean International is looking at basing a cruise ship in the UAE port in a bid to target the growing Middle East cruise market.

The ship is likely to sail between Gulf ports and through the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean.
Michael Bayley, senior vice president international for Royal Caribbean International, told TTN Dubai would be natural base to capture the important winter cruising traffic.
“Dubai is an attractive proposition to us. One of the challenges of the cruising industry is what we call winter deployment. It is very easy to make money in the summer but the winter is little bit more challenging,” he says.
“We are looking for viable winter positioning for our ships. Dubai is sunny all year round and it has its best weather in the winter.”
Bayley said RCI would be looking to deploy one of its six Vision class ships, which first came into service in the late 1990s. They are 915 feet long, have a passenger capacity of 2,435 and a cruising speed of 22 knots. They come complete with a central shopping centre, themed bars and lounges, indoor pools and a day spa and fitness centre. They also have golf courses.
“They are beautiful ships,” says Bayley. “They are in great condition and we have upgraded them since they were first built.”
“When we establish a new home port we normally go in with a smaller capacity ship because there is a lot of risk involved.”
If Royal Caribbean International does launch in Dubai it will be going head to head with Italian cruise operator Costa which sails out of Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and ports around the region.
“Dubai has developed itself to such a point where it is a huge attraction in its own right. There is a lot of volume coming into Dubai and so the idea of having a complimentary experience of doing cruising and staying in Dubai is pretty attractive,” adds Bayley.
RCI, a Norwegian-American cruise ship company which is based in Miami, currently operates 20 cruise ships around the Caribbean, the Mediterranean and across the world. It made a net income of $603m on a turnover of $6.149 billion in 2007.  
RCI currently has between 12,000 and 15,000 cruise passengers a year from the Gulf States, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt. Its total passenger numbers are around 12m.
Bayley believes RCI could grow the market considerably if it  bases a ship in the region.
“The American cruise market was tiny 20 years ago but now it is huge,” adds Bayley.
Helen Beck, regional sales director,  international representatives, Europe, Middle East and Africa, says the Middle East has the potential to become a key market.
“We love our guests from the Middle East and there is a lot of opportunity for growth,” she says.
Sheikh Bader Bin Sulman Al Khalifa, managing director of Alkaatib Travel Agency in Bahrain, who was a guest on the inaugural voyage from Southampton, welcomes the prospect of cruises from the Middle East.