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Saturday, October 23, 2021

Cruise ships dock in Doha as Qatar eyes tourism expansion

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Tourist arriving at Doha Port
Tourist arriving at Doha Port

As part of an ongoing effort to raise Qatar’s profile as a international tourism destination, three cruise ships have docked in Doha in the past week, the state’s tourism authority has said.

Seabourn Soujourn, MS Island Sky and MS Europa 2 brought with them hundreds of international visitors when they stopped in Qatar as part of separate regional tours.

They are among five  eight ships that will include Doha as a destination on their wider Gulf itineraries this winter season, Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA) added in a statement.

The visits come ahead of Qatar hosting a two-day regional cruise ship forum next month at the Marsa Malaz Kempinski Hotel. Representatives from 11 international cruise companies will join government officials in tourism, immigration, ports and security to discuss future plans for the industry in the Gulf.

“The cruise industry cannot succeed without cooperation between all sides and this is a unique opportunity to find the common ground needed to overcome challenges and lay the ground work for a thriving cruise sector,” Hassan Al Ibrahim, QTA’s chief tourism development officer, said in a statement earlier this month.

In the latest trips, visitors spent a day in Doha and watched Ardha (sword dance) performances, took photos with falcons and participated in organized tours to key landmarks before returning to their ships at the end of the day.

Globally, the cruise ship industry is expected to grow in the coming years as operators launch 55 new ships between 2015 and 2020, according to an industry organization.

Qatar has said it wants to capture a larger share of this market.

More tourists

Qatar has for some years been talking about trying to develop its appeal as a destination for cruise ships as part of an overall strategy of significantly increasing the number of visitors traveling to its shores.

Speaking at the Sea Trade cruise forum in Abu Dhabi two years ago, QTA Chairman Issa bin Mohammed Al Mohannadi said the government was considering transforming the old Doha Port near the Museum of Islamic Art into a docking station for cruise ships.

At the time, QTA said the Gulf currently captures only 1 percent of the global cruise market. Al Mohannadi added:

“The presence of a home port for cruise lines would enhance not only Qatar but the Gulf’s position as a tourist destination and promote economic diversity. As the tourism industry develops in Qatar and across the Gulf, the cruise market can be a pillar of growth that accelerates our efforts and brings more people to discover the products on offer.”

Construction publication MEED reported last October that Qatar’s public works authority Ashghal had invited contractors to submit bids for the reconfiguration of the old port. However, Ashghal has not confirmed this and there have been no further details publicly issued on the project since then.

QTA has previously said it wants to attract up to 7 million visitors by 2030. Recent official figures show that some headway is being made towards this target, as mid-year statistics published by QTA showed visitor numbers were up by more than 100,000 in the first six months, putting it on track to meet its target of of 3 million visitors by the end of this year.

Cruise ship Island Sky at Doha Port
Cruise ship Island Sky at Doha Port

Visitors from neighboring Gulf countries including Saudi Arabia made up 41 percent of the total tourist numbers from January to June this year, and overall figures were up 7 percent on the same period last year.

Meanwhile, QTA figures for the first nine months of the year showed that nearly 2.25m visitors came to Qatar.

Outside the GCC, arrivals were also up from France (9 percent), China (16 percent) and the US (2 percent) for the first three quarters of 2015.

Meanwhile, Qatar has already said it is preparing use cruise ships to accommodate football fans during the 2022 World Cup.

Earlier this year, QTA announced plans to contract at least 6,000 cruise ship rooms for the winter tournament, although it did not say where the cruise ships would be berthed during the World Cup.

Note: This article was updated with QTA figures for the first nine months of 2015, and new figures on the number of cruise ships expected in Qatar this season.

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