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Sir Bani Yas beach destination boosting Abu Dhabi's cruise business

Arabian Gulf playground boost for record-breaking Abu Dhabi Ports

With nearby Sir Bani Yas Island now open for business to cruise ships, Abu Dhabi Ports (ADP) has good reason to believe its record cruise terminal figures for the 2015-16 season are a sign of things to come.

A record 113 cruise ships hosting a combined passenger total of 231,660 called at Zayed Port’s new, ultramodern Abu Dhabi Cruise Terminal last season, a 20% season-on-season increase in vessel numbers and a 16% injection in dirham-wielding, culture-hungry holidaymakers.

The numbers highlight the role ADP continues to play in bolstering Abu Dhabi’s tourism industry and achieving the UAE capital’s economic diversification goals, ADP’s ceo, Captain Mohamed Juma Al Shamisi, said.

Al Shamisi is equally bullish about the future given that Sir Bani Yas Island, the Arabian Gulf’s first integrated beach resort and wildlife reserve, has welcomed its first cruise ships.

Situated 91nm southwest of Abu Dhabi, the eco-tourism stopover crucially allows ADP to differentiate itself from regional rivals to cruise line operators eyeing entry into the growing Middle East market or the expansion of existing schedules.   

As earlier reported, MSC Cruises' MSC Fantasia will begin calling in December, 2016 and already 39 cruise ships, with an expected 65,000 passengers, are confirmed to visit Bani Yas next season. They follow in the historic wake of the 114-passenger Island Sky (Noble Caledonia) which made the maiden cruise call to the island last November, followed shortly afterwards by the 450-passenger capacity Seabourn Sojourn.

Upon berthing, guests have a day to explore Bani Yas including the 87sq km island’s popular Nature & Wildlife Drive, complete with free-roaming Arabian Rock Hyrax, Beisa Oryx, giraffe and ostrich. Horseback riding, mountain biking, land sailing, archery, kayaking, snorkelling, pearl diving, spa treatments and multiple dining options are also available.

Bani Yas is the venue for the Seatrade Middle East Cruise Forum taking place on December 14-15, 2016.  

Al Shamisi believes the alluring Bani Yas stopover ensures a promising future for the Abu Dhabi Cruise Terminal.

'We are working closely with our strategic partners to reinforce Abu Dhabi’s position as a major global destination and attract international cruise ships to not only call at Abu Dhabi as part of their itinerary, but also to choose the emirate as their starting point for regional cruises by making it their homeport,' Al Shamisi said.

MSC Cruises and AIDA Cruises were the first cruise line operators to choose Abu Dhabi and Zayed Port’s new permanent terminal as their homeport for the 2015/2016 season. Nearly 18% of the total passenger footfall during the 2015-16 season arrived on homeporting vessels, a significant increase on previous years and a healthy boost to Abu Dhabi’s tourism and cultural sectors overall.

The new terminal has lured newcomers, not least by incorporating integrated technology such as airport check-in counters including a dedicated area for Abu Dhabi’s national airline Etihad Airways. It also features a taste of the emirate’s heritage by incorporating national icons such as the UAE’s traditional sailing dhow and its national tree, the Ghaf, into its architectural design.

Passenger numbers at Zayed Port have steadily grown from the 35,366 welcomed 10 years ago, ADP’s first cruise season in 2006-2007.  

Tourists from Germany, Italy, and the UK made up 80% of cruise visitors to Abu Dhabi last season. Holidaymakers from Spain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Austria were also well represented, lured by winter sun, desert sand dunes, white sand beaches, world-class shopping/dining, leisure destinations and Abu Dhabi’s historic arts and cultural districts

'This impressive double-digit growth in the face of economic headwinds is a remarkable achievement and further strengthens Abu Dhabi Cruise Terminal’s role in boosting the country’s tourism industry,' Al Shamisi said.

ADP’s manages ten commercial, logistics, community and leisure ports, and Khalifa Industrial Zone which serves a range of logistics and manufacturing investors. 

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