Abu Dhabi is poised to become the regional hub for ‘Halal Cruising’, delegates heard on the final day of the 2016 Seatrade Middle East Cruise Forum, taking place in the UAE capital.
That was the strong message delivered by Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi) to senior cruise line executives, tourism authorities, industry stakeholders and global tour operators at the event discussing the development of cruising in Abu Dhabi and the Arabian Gulf, which concludes today (Wednesday, 14 December) at the Four Seasons Hotel Abu Dhabi at Al Maryah Island.
“We have identified the ‘Halal Cruising’ segment as a new source market to support our ambitions to grow Abu Dhabi’s cruise passenger numbers to over 800,000 by 2025,” said Mubarak Al Shamisi, Director of Abu Dhabi Convention Bureau, during a panel discussion exploring how to expand source markets for Arabian cruise products.
“We believe our culture, heritage and product base has great appeal with the Muslim traveller and the expansion of this product mix into the cruise segment is a natural progression to attract Muslim passengers from our key cruise markets, and stimulate regional and home-grown demand for Abu Dhabi cruises.”
Abu Dhabi’s international cruise tourism passengers are predominately sourced from Germany, United Kingdom and France, which have a combined Muslim population of over nine million people.
“When you factor in the US$55 billion value of the Muslim travel market from the UAE and our closest GCC neighbours, the potential is clear to see. Our challenge is to work with all concerned to ensure that cruise lines develop the product, that this product is available to purchase through the right channels, and that it appeals to the particular travel needs of the Muslim traveller,” added Al Shamisi.
The value of the global Muslim tourism market is estimated to be worth $151 billion, rising to $243 billion by 2021, according to the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.
In 2015, Abu Dhabi stated its intent to become a leading destination for Halal tourism, a fast emerging concept in the tourism industry that offers a range of holiday packages adhering to Islamic beliefs and practices. TCA Abu Dhabi adopted a Halal travel strategy and partnered with leading halal travel companies to extend the availability of Abu Dhabi products and experiences in their portfolios.
Outlining four elements of a strategic approach to develop demand for the sector, Mr Al Shamisi added: “In partnership with international cruise lines and the travel community, we intend to deliver against priority areas to ensure our cruise products are well placed to meet specific Muslim demands on a number of fronts including food and beverage, segmented family and gender-specific products and provision of prayer facilities.”
The quartet of priorities also includes encouraging ‘halal’ tour operators to consider packaging the concept of ‘halal cruising’ with Abu Dhabi as the primary destination for departures; by stimulating demand for the sector through tour operator partnerships, travel trade training, and making packages available in the market; and inviting charter or ‘Halal only’ cruise companies to operate special cruises from Abu Dhabi.
TCA Abu Dhabi has already begun partnering with HalalBooking.com – the world’s leading online halal accommodation booking platform – and many local destination management companies are supporting international operators with halal products. TCA Abu Dhabi will also encourage them to develop their cruise portfolio.
“And our culturally-authentic, family leisure shore excursion opportunities are perfect for the cruise market,” added Al Shamisi. “None more so than the dedicated cruise beach on Sir Bani Yas Island which has exclusive use for cruise liners, and has the potential for gender separation,” he added.