The Middle East looks to take on Asia as the new fly-cruise destination

First, they muscled in on the lucrative air routes to Europe and America with Emirates and Etihad.  Now the Middle East is bidding to become the next big fly-cruise hub,  with a number of big name cruise lines homeporting in the region and a massive new terminal.

MSC and Scenic have both pledged ships to sail in areas like the Gulf and Saudi Arabia, with MSC announcing this week it would be homeporting its ships in the port of Jeddah for the next five years.

Scenic revealed earlier this year it would be sending the luxurious Scenic Eclipse to the Red Sea when its Australian Kimberley season was cancelled.

A number of luxury cruise lines like Regent Seven Seas and Silversea have dedicated calls in the region for their 2022 and 2023 world cruises.

The Middle East with its accessibility to Europe and also home to many of the preferred airlines for Australians, might be a major competitor to the fly-cruise market in Asia.

While it might be early days, MSC sees the potential in introducing the Middle East as an alternative to Asia as a fly-cruise hub.

“The Gulf region is extremely important for us and we’re proud to be the biggest market shareholder in the area,” said a spokesperson from MSC.

“The region is home for some of the world’s major airlines and finest airports which are incredibly important factors for international travellers and extremely significant for us too in all of our source markets for guests.

“For this coming winter we have in place a range of fly and cruise packages for international guests from all over the world to embark our ships in both Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, Doha in Qatar and Jeddah in Saudi Arabia.”

Scenic said that at this stage, while Asia has a better-established cruise market, the Saudi Arabia region is currently developing their cruise infrastructure.

Dammam in Saudi Arabia is slated to be the next cruise destination for MSC.

MSC will be naming its newest ship, the MSC Virtuosa in Dubai on November 27 and the line has said there is demand from the Australian market.

“We have a sizeable future global investment portfolio of new vessels which is projected to grow from 19 this year to 23 cruise ships by 2025 with options for six vessel orders in place through to 2030,” said an MSC spokesperson.

“There is great consumer demand for the region which will increase with our inaugural Red Sea sailings in the winter and we’re very optimistic about the future as we look to retain our number one position and see our share increase.

“The importance of the region to us is also demonstrated by the fact that the official naming ceremony of our newest ship MSC Virtuosa will take place on November 27 in Dubai.”

As well as the new Red Sea cruises from Saudi Arabia to Egypt and Jordan, MSC Virtuosa has added Dammam in Saudi Arabia for her first season in the Gulf from her homeport in Dubai.

MSC Opera will offer cruises to Oman and from a business perspective we were really pleased to sign preferential berthing rights in 2019 for our ships in both Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

The line’s new MSC World Europa is set to debut at the end of 2022 sailing in the Middle East with bookings opening for MSC’s first World class vessel.

She will set sail in December 2022 and will spend her inaugural season in the Gulf. Her season will commence with a special four-night sailing from Doha in Qatar to her new homeport of Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

The MSC World Europa will offer seven-night cruises from Dubai to the nearby Abu Dhabi and then onto Sir Bani Yas Island. Her program in the Gulf has also been enriched with calls in the port of Dammam, Saudi Arabia, visiting Al Ahsa oasis.

The ship also calls Doha, the capital of Qatar, before returning to Dubai with an overnight in the city.