Dubai, UAE – Talks are under way for a single UAE cruise visa that would simplify the immigration process and attract more tourists, according to a senior tourism official in Dubai.
“The visa issue is being discussed and certain actions need to be taken — I don’t have a date as to when it will happen, but it should be happening soon,” Saleh Mohammad Al Geziry, director of overseas promotions at Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing.
The UAE’s burgeoning cruise tourism industry is hampered by visa issues which continue to deter tourists from embarking on cruises from here. Multiple-entry visas are issued to business visitors, but cruise ship passengers currently must obtain a different visa for each UAE port they land in. Tourists currently must buy three separate visas at a cost of $240 (Dh881) a visitor.
Helen Beck, regional sales director at Royal Caribbean International, said this can act as a deterrent to potential customers. Citizens of China and Russia, which are important markets for the UAE, must obtain the extra visas.
However, travellers from 33 countries — including all GCC states, the UK and US — are issued free visas on arrival.
Despite the visa regulations, the fledgling cruise industry is still growing. Dubai officials are forecasting 575,000 seasonal passengers by 2015 from the 325,000 passengers recorded during the 2009-10 season.
“Cruise tourists are becoming an increasingly important part of Dubai’s tourism industry,” said Hamad Mohammad Bin Mejren, executive director of business tourism at DTCM. “At DTCM, we look forward to a period of tremendous growth in cruise tourism.”
Dubai’s cruise terminal in Port Rashid currently caters to 103 ships, a sharp rise from the 28 it had in 2006. The number is expected to rise to 180 vessels and pulling in incoming passengers of 625,000 by 2015.
The number of cruise ships visiting Fujairah has also been increasing, with 56 vessels expected to arrive between November 2010 and May.
“It is very important for us to support luxury cruise ships not only as sources of income but also as ambassadors to the beauty of Dubai, the UAE and the entire Gulf,” said Jamal Humaid Al Falasi, director of the Dubai Cruise Terminal.
“Through constant improvements to our cruise liner facilities and services we intend to continue providing world-class support to luxury vessels and reinforce our emerging status as a global cruise tourism hub within the next few years.”
The move by international companies such as Costa Cruises to Dubai has helped place the industry on the map. “The cruise industry is still fledgling,” said Beck. “We still have a lot of opportunity in this region.
“Bringing companies such as Costa helps to spread the word. The more ships that come here, the more the word is out about cruising.
“We’re in a positive cycle at the moment. We had a 60 per cent growth last year and we’re expecting a 60 per cent growth next year.”
Brilliance of the Seas started her second consecutive season from her home port Dubai last week. The cruise ship will be offering seven-night cruises around the UAE and Oman, touching Dubai, Fujairah, Muscat and Abu Dhabi. The vessel has also recently introduced 12-night itineraries which will include ports in India.
The largest global cruise line reports that this year’s itineraries are proving very popular; nearly all sailings are fully booked at the season’s outset.
“We’re in the happy position that the majority of our seven-night sailings are close to being sold out, with some limited availability on the late March and April sailings,” Beck said.