Cruise Saudi has set an “ambitious” target of hitting 1.3 million visitors to the country by 2035 as it grows its infrastructure in both the Red Sea and Arabian Gulf.
Speaking to Cruise Trade News at World Travel Market in London earlier this week, Cruise Saudi chief asset manager and operations officer Barbara Buczek said cruise is “central” to the country’s Vision 2030 strategy.
“For us, it’s about passengers staying and coming back,” she continued. “Every part of Saudi offers you something different to experience. Where we are different is Saudi is still very much authentic Arabia. The Saudis are known for their generosity in hospitality.”
Saudi Arabia will work closely with other Middle Eastern cruise destinations in the United Arab Emirates and others to further establish the region in which to base ships and cruise itineraries.
“The Arabian Gulf is quite well served already for cruise by Dubai, Qatar and Abu Dhabi and we have been mindful of the area we are working within,” added Buczek.
“There’s an association called Cruise Arabia which hopefully we will have a plan to join. There’s no similar association for the Red Sea, but we have a good collaboration with Egypt and Jordan.”
Cruise Saudi to operate homegrown cruise line next year
Cruise Saudi has announced plans to operate homegrown cruise line, Aroya, from next year using the 5,000-passenger former Dream Cruises vessel World Dream which is undergoing a refit. It is also working on Project Sama which is expected to see an international luxury cruise line, developed in partnership with Aman, launch in 2025.
Now in its third season, Cruise Saudi has grown from working with just two operators to 14 as new port facilities, including private beaches and islands, are opened in the Arabian Gulf and Red Sea.
Saudi plans to have 10 ports operational by 2030 and all three that are currently open have been expanded to they are large enough to welcome the world’s biggest cruise ships.
“The plan going forward is to have dedicated cruise facilities in the area where we are planning to have turnaround and homeporting,” said Buczek.
Saudi Arabia ‘offers something different’
In addition, the first phase of the NEOM giga-project that is due to open – the Sindalah luxury island destination – will have facilities for cruise ship visits.
Buczek said the Arabian Gulf has broad appeal but particularly for seasoned cruisers while the Red Sea offers an alternative winter repositioning opportunity for lines operating in the Mediterranean. She added over Cruise Saudi’s first three seasons, the destination has welcomed cruise passengers from 120 different countries.
“And the feedback we have from guests is what a fantastic destination, we have to come back and see more,” she said. “Cruise has great loyalty, and as a destination Saudi Arabia offers something different that people do not expect. We have tours for guests that showcase all the history but also how Saudi is changing.”