Two Gulf Arab countries aim to take on the Caribbean as it seeks to become a major destination for cruise tourism, especially during the winter months in the northern hemisphere.
After competing for business in the last few years, Abu Dhabi and Dubai, both part of the seven-member United Arab Emirates, and neighbouring Oman are now collaborating to promote the region as a cruise destination.
All three are investing in building additional cruise terminals or facilities and plan to establish common operational and technical standards, although visas and security issues remain sticking points that need to be improved or could limit growth in the industry.
"A joint approach to development will be key to ensuring we have a sustainable agenda for growth," Sheikh Sultan bin Tahnoon Al Nahyan, chairman, Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority (TCA), told the Seatrade Middle East Cruise Forum on Wednesday.
The three Gulf states are formalising a memorandum of understanding to jointly develop the cruise industry in the region, with others likely to join the alliance soon, two industry sources familiar with the matter told Reuters, declining to be named because the information is not yet public.
"It is an emerging cruise destination with positives such as winter sun destination, rich cultural heritage, beautiful islands, deserts and with no funding problem," one of the sources said.
The biggest barrier to growth will be the issue of visas. The lack of a European-style Schengen single visa for entry into the six Gulf states and the absence of multi-entry visas are major stumbling blocks, executives of cruise liners told the forum.
"A Gulf-wide cruise visa would be ideal to attract more tourists due to the entry and exit into multiple ports, leading to reduced costs and less processing time," said Grant Holmes, CEO of Progress International, a cruise consultancy.
"The Gulf is a promising market but a clear short to medium-term strategy is needed soon from all the Gulf states after forming an alliance to work together to promote the region."
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