destinations in Europe and South East Asia. However, in the last 18
months, there has been a big spurt in Indians travelling to the United Arab Emirates
(UAE). This has been primarily due to a stronger dollar (which means
better currency exchange rates for tourists), falling oil prices and a
rising supply of available hotel rooms.
“Proximity to India makes the UAE a good option for a short vacation –
good as a weekend getaway or even as a week-long break. There are a
variety of new attractions and experiences that have come up both in Abu
Dhabi and Dubai
making it a great option for repeat visitors,” says Nancy Castelino, VP
Marketing for Mercury Travels, one of the country’s oldest travel
Typically, Dubai has attracted the lion’s share of tourists flowing in
to the UAE, but the Emirati capital Abu Dhabi is working hard to
present itself as an alternative destination in the region. Last year, a
record three million tourists visited the Emirate, according to the Abu
Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi). And this year,
that number is expected to rise about 25%.
One of the countries the TCA is concentrating on is India.
“We have a history with India. Indians rank first on the list of
guests in Abu Dhabi hotels. We’re trying to attract more Indian
consumers to the region,” Saeed Al Dhaheri, Cruises Sector and city tour
manager for TCA Abu Dhabi told timesofindia.com.
As Gerardo Lianes, the Executive Director of Destination Management,
MIRAL pointed out: “India has a huge middle class and they want to see
One of the fastest growing segments in tourism in Abu Dhabi is cruise
tourism, which grew at more than 10 percent last year. This Emirati city
is positioning itself as a culturally authentic, family friendly
destination for cruise passengers. While Indians make up the largest
numbers in hotel occupancy, getting them on a cruise in the region has
so far proved to be challenging.
This was one of the focal points of discussion at the recently
concluded Seatrade Middle East Forum in Abu Dhabi. Of the more than
300,000 cruise tourists that passed through Abu Dhabi last year, a mere
9% were Indians.
Why Abu Dhabi as a Cruise Destination
“The region has much to offer travellers who are looking for something
different. For many people, the Gulf’s landscapes are yet to be
discovered,” says Darren Peisley, acting CEO of the Hall Group.
The Arabian Gulf is the third most popular destination in the winter
cruising market for Europe and the US – and now this alliance hopes to
expand to new markets like China and India. Experts feel the region has
remarkable diversity and the biggest challenge is to communicate that to
the consumers, especially in newer markets.
Abu Dhabi is a key component of Cruise Arabia – the two other cities in the UAE being Dubai and Sharjah.
The alliance also includes Oman, Qatar and Bahrain. A key attribute of
this regional strategy is to differentiate the visitor experience not
just in each of the countries but also at each port.
Abu Dhabi now boasts of the Arabian Gulf’s only dedicated desert
island cruise stopover – the Sir Bani Yas island. The cruise beach was
formally opened in December 2016 and the island has already been voted
the ‘Word’s leading sustainable tourism destination’ at the World Travel
“Together with Abu Dhabi Ports and Etihad Airways we have achieved
growth through developing long-term partnerships and cooperation, which
adds more value to the services and facilities we offer for tourists
coming to the region,” says Saif Saeed Ghobash, the director general of
TCA Abu Dhabi.
The Sir Bani Yas beach is expected to attract more than 60,000
passengers from 39 stopover cruise line calls in its first season alone.
The opening of the new integrated cruise terminal in the heart of Abu
Dhabi last year has also contributed to the growth of cruise ship
arrivals. The terminal has exclusive check-in facilities with Etihad
Airways and has increased access for passengers to visit mainland
attractions like the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, which is a mere 20
minutes drive, or to the Saadiyat cultural district that will see Louvre
Abu Dhabi opening later this year.
How Indians are looking at Abu Dhabi
Indian travel services are now increasingly promoting Abu Dhabi as a
tourist destination, especially for those travellers who have been to
Dubai and want a holiday a short flight away. The number of tourists
from India visiting the city has grown by about 30 per cent each year.
Abu Dhabi is especially attractive as it is a 4-hour flight from Delhi
or Mumbai and the national carrier Etihad Airways has partnered with Jet
Airways to have connecting flights to all major Indian cities.
“It has all that Dubai has to offer in terms of the hotels, shopping,
excursions etc. and lots more like the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the Ferrari
World, the Falcon Hospital etc. And if one still wants to go across to
Dubai, them it’s only a short ride away. Moreover, the quality is as
good and the rates are lower, hence that makes it very attractive for
In addition, a large number of holiday goers to Dubai also include Abu
Dhabi and Yas Island as a day trip or an overnight stay destination,”
said Nancy Castelino, VP Marketing for Mercury Travels.
Abu Dhabi is also gaining popularity as a destination for weddings and
for school and college reunions, as it is well connected with India,
Europe and the United States. Castelino says the cruise market is
gaining popularity and there are many more people opting for cruises.
The bug bear – customers would prefer if cruises start from India. And
that is something the cruise line companies agree with.
“The Indian subcontinent will be a big port of call for Cruise Arabia,
especially the European cruises. We can go and do longer itineraries
and further go away from the region into the Indian Ocean sector,” said
Chris Coates, the commercial director of Cruise and Maritime Voyages, to
Christopher Allen, Vice President of one of the largest cruise
companies, Royal Caribbean concurs but says challenges exist:”India was
critical to expanding the itinerary to 12-14 days. It expands the
breadth and marketability for the region. Challenges of infrastructure
exist and that needs to improve”
Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi
Sir Bani Yas Cruise Beach