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ATM on the crest of a wave

Cruise pavilion doubles in size as international and regional operators leave economic downturn and Arab Spring in their wake at Arabian Travel Market 

The Middle East’s cruise sector will be highly visible and well represented at this year’s Arabian Travel Market (ATM) 2014, which takes place at the Dubai World Trade Centre from 5-8 May, according to show organiser Reed Travel Exhibitions.
The region’s cruise sector had been in decline since the global downturn and the subsequent effects of the Arab Spring. However with significant infrastructure investment, easing visa regulations and creative marketing, the cruise sector is bouncing-back.
One challenge that the region faced was the lack of ports of call and the location of cruise facilities - most of the berths for cruise vessels were located within commercial shipping ports, which was not particularly conducive for leisure visitors.    
In response, Mina Zayed Port in Abu Dhabi is currently undergoing major redevelopment creating a dedicated cruise terminal. Dubai has been upgrading Port Rashid to accommodate seven vessels simultaneously, up from the current five, as part of its strategy to attract 450,000 cruise tourists by 2016.  
“Regional governments have invested into the infrastructure required to develop cruise tourism, which is bringing growing confidence to the market,” said Mark Walsh, Portfolio Director, Reed Travel Exhibitions.
Bahrain is restarting US$80 million worth of mixed-use projects at the Muharraq coastal site and King Fasial Corniche seafront. Oman plans a new 100-berth marina project as part of the Jebel Sifah development and in Aqaba, Jordan, phase one of the Marsa Zayed project will be completed in 2015 at a cost of over US$ 815 million.
Relaxed visa requirements have also helped the cruise sector, especially when multiple ports of call are a part of the cruise agenda. GCC countries through bilateral agreements with other nations have allowed a new wave of visitors to apply for visa on arrival and the UAE is apparently considering a new multi-entry cruise visa. This is creating opportunities for local tour operators offering select activity packages to showcase their services at ATM and strong creative marketing campaigns have raised the profile of destinations such as Salalah and Musandam.
“Tailor-made cruises are trending at the moment and growth in that segment is expected moving forward, creating potential new partnerships between cruise companies and bespoke local tour operators,” added Walsh. 

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