Royal Caribbean to “sail past” Bahrain
Bahrain is to miss out on millions of dollars in tourism revenues after Royal Caribbean decided to stop sailing to the destination in response to complaints from cruise passengers.
When the company starts its weekly cruises again next January, it will not visit Bahrain because in its first season, which ended in April, passengers had been put off the destination by unscrupulous taxi drivers overcharging them and the distance between the port and the city centre.
The Miami-based Royal Caribbean launched its first cruises around the Gulf in January, bringing more than 32,000 passengers to the region in four months on its Brilliance of the Seas liner, which carries up to 2,500 guests. The one-week cruises, which sailed out of Dubai, stopped in Muscat, Fujairah, Abu Dhabi and Bahrain.
A 2,000-passenger ship brings an average revenue of US$274,165 (Dh1 million) to each port of call, according to research by the shipping news organisation Seatrade. Bahrain has cited the cruise sector as an important part of its tourism strategy.
The Brilliance of the Seas cruises included a stop at Bahrain’s new Shaikh Khalifa bin Salman Port.
“We have taken Bahrain out of the itinerary,” said Helen Beck, the regional sales director of Royal Caribbean. “We had quite a lot of negativity from UK guests in particular.”
She said the cruises would instead feature an extended overnight stop in Muscat, rather than visit Bahrain.
“We’re speaking to the tourism department in Bahrain and taking the feedback to pieces,” said Ms Beck. “There’s an awful lot of things to do and see. We’re working very closely to get the issues resolved and get them [Bahrain] back into the programme as soon as possible”
Bahrain’s tourism sector, part of the country’s ministry of culture and information, declined to comment. Guests from the UK accounted for about 55 per cent of the passengers on Royal Caribbean’s Gulf cruises in the first season.
German and US passengers made up the bulk of the rest. A few guests came from the Gulf region.
“The first season in any destination is always interesting,” said Ms Beck, adding the region had a lot of potential but there was still much work to be done in the region’s fledgling cruise sector. The voyages have been running near full capacity so far.
Royal Caribbean plans to run cruises over the same period next year but will then sail during the standard November-to-April season. Miss Beck said one of the main issues still to be resolved was the fact that passengers from certain countries had to buy multiple visas to visit the different destinations the Gulf cruise called at in the UAE.
“That really does present us with a challenge and drives away some potential guests,” said Ms Beck.
Also, she said, destinations in the region needed to consider locating their cruise terminals away from commercial shipping ports, which were generally unattractive points of entry for cruise passengers.
Feedback from passengers on their visits to Abu Dhabi was generally positive but as in the case of Bahrain, a number of people complained they had been overcharged by taxi drivers, who behaved like “bees around a honey pot” when passengers disembarked at Port Zayed, Ms Beck said.
“If it’s the first impression that people get of a destination, it stays with them,” she said, adding that Royal Caribbean planned to discuss the situation with the relevant authorities.
The Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority is carrying out a feasibility study on building a dedicated cruise terminal. The authority said a preferred site had been identified, which it said would be needed to advance the emirate’s ambitions of growing its ports sector.
The authority said the choice of site was awaiting government approval. Abu Dhabi is looking at a target of 300 ships and more than 600,000 passengers a year by 2030.