Qatar Tourism’s Craig Upshall looks ahead to the start of the winter cruise season and outlines how the destination intends to take its cruise offering to the next level.
The winter season starts imminently – tell us about that?
We’re very excited for what will be the biggest-ever cruise season Qatar has seen in its history. We have the new cruise terminal, which was opened around the FIFA World Cup, so it’s exciting to see the full terminal in use and both berths. There’s a good a mix of smaller ships and large vessels, such as Ponant and MSC Virtuosa.
The whole area has been redeveloped since World Cup so I think from a consumer perspective, it’s the best in the Gulf region, in terms of location, aesthetics and accessibility to all our major attractions.
Overall, there are 25 overnight calls this season – the most we’ve ever had – from a variety of cruise lines, including Crystal. That enables us to showcase more of Qatar to visitors.
We’ve also got the Doha Expo, which is a horticultural expo, free of charge for visitors, which runs for six months, across the cruise season. Then there’s the Moto GP, in November, the ATP tennis tour and the Doha Masters golf tournament.
Is your work to build awareness now paying off?
The World Cup was brilliant for awareness and we’ve seen growth in our cruise passenger numbers. Really, this season is going to be our first full season – if you did a like-for-like comparison, you’d be going back five years.
So far this year we’ve had a quarter of a million cruise visitors, of which about 10 per cent are embarkations in Doha, which is phenomenal.
We expect approximately 150,000 in the last quarter of this year, so we’re pushing 350,000 to 400,000 cruise visitors this calendar year across the two seasons.
We’re seeing more engagement, with new cruise lines coming in, and we’ve worked hard to have itinerary planners come to Doha to see the destination. It opens their eyes to what we have to offer.
We’re very visible in UK market and working with the travel trade and getting agents out to see the destination for themselves. For example, MSC Cruises have an upcoming trip for their top trade partners.
What’s next for Qatar and its cruise aims?
There are still opportunities to develop our cruise offering. One of those is looking at a dedicated luxury berth – we want to be the first to have that. That would allow us to differentiate our product mix with a more premium offering for those guests who are coming on smaller ships.
There is still work to do on improving awareness and there’s a lot we can do as a destination to drive that throughout 2024.
We’ll continue to invest in training with our Qatar Specialist Training Programme with fam trips; this year we have had between 1,200, and 1,300 agents from across the globe visit Qatar.