Cruise Saudi launched in 2021 with Silversea, Scenic and MSC Cruises operating sailings from Jeddah.
Khan calls Saudi Arabia ‘complementary to what cruising has to offer.'
Since it burst onto the scene what has Cruise Saudi been working on? Mary Bond asked in a one-to-one interview on the trade show theatre during Seatrade Cruise Global.
‘Building the ports, forging partnerships, working with govt agencies on COVID protocols, immigration, customs, creating tours, etc. have all been part of our daily lives,’ said Khan.
‘Saudi only started welcoming tourists four years ago. Vision 2030 is a transformational strategy for the kingdom. Tourism is key to developing this. The goal is over 1m tourists annually. That’s a big ambition. We believe we can reach this in 15 years,’ he explained.
As far as cruise tourism development goes, MSC Bellissima spent the 2021/22 summer and winter seasons home porting in Jeddah and ‘we’ve got a proof of concept with MSC Cruises which had a second ship [MSC Virtuosa] visit Jeddah Islamic Port. Silversea, Viking and Scenic have visited as well. Collectively they completed more than 70 sailings during the inaugural 2021 and winter 2022 season.
‘It’s clear to us what we need to do to move forward. Now it’s about improving guest experience at the terminal, streamlining the process for immigration and customs,’ explained Khan.
‘We need to listen to what the cruise lines want: diversify our products, improve the quality.
‘Saudi Tourism Authority helped us a lot with ambassadors aboard the ships, at the terminal, at port side,’ he added. ‘We want to give the cruise lines the best possible authentic experience with support in marketing incentives, port fees and more.’
Three ports are cruise ready: Jeddah and Yanbu in the Red Sea and Dammam on the Gulf coast. Every port development we do will be able to receive the biggest class of cruise ship.
What are the next steps for Saudi in its cruise journey?
‘We now need to start thinking about products. Diversifying them, developing the land experiences, improving connectivity in the Gulf, and working on the guest experience. Next year we will have more tailored products and we want hundreds, if not thousands, of excursion programs.
‘We also need alliances with neighbouring countries – Egypt, Jordan and others who are open to cruise going forward. When the southern parts of the Red Sea open up we’ll be able to showcase the Saudi mountains, the unexplored areas of Sudan, Yeman, Oman and more. And on the Gulf coast connecting with the country’s represented by Cruise Arabia.’
The potential is huge, he concluded.
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