The number of cruise ships docking in Doha next year is expected to increase more than three-fold, according to a senior ports official.
Qatar’s capital will welcome 30 cruise ships during the next tourist season, which runs from October 2016 to April 2017 – significantly more than the eight vessels that will stop in Doha this winter.
The international 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, and the Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA) wants to up its share of this market.
The QTA has previously said it wants to develop Doha as a destination for ships on a Gulf tour, as part of its overall strategy to boost the number of visitors to the state.
In the coming years, Qatar will significantly increase the number of cruise tourists to the country from the 1,500 people who came in on three ships last month, the director of Doha Port Management, Abdul Aziz Nasser Al Yafei told Qatar News Agency (QNA).
The forecast for next season comes ahead of a two-day regional cruise ship forum that opens at Marsa Malaz Kempinski Hotel from tomorrow.
There, 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.
While vessels currently dock at the existing Doha Port, next to the Museum of Islamic Art, the new Hamad Port will be ready to start taking bigger cruise ships from the end of next year, Al Yafei added.
The port, in Umm Al-Houl near Mesaieed, will start a test run for commercial shipping this month and will help to relieve some of the pressure of heavy trucks on Doha’s increasingly congested Corniche.
Container ships are expected to start using Hamad Port in mid-2016.
Cruise ship port
A previously discussed plan to transform Doha Port into a dedicated cruise terminal once commercial shipping moves over to Hamad Port also appears to be still on track.
This idea was first raised two years ago by a QTA official at the Seatrade Middle East Cruise Forum in Abu Dhabi.
At the time, QTA’s Chairman Issa bin Mohammed Al Mohannadi said:
“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.”
However, no further public information on the project has so far been revealed.
Al Yafei said that the plans were still in place and that Hamad Port would begin taking mega cruise ships from next year until the redevelopment of Doha Port as a cruise terminal was complete.
A temporary passenger terminal and lounge will be built at Hamad Port while construction of Doha Port is underway, he said.
Works on the existing site to enable the bigger ships to dock include creating deeper berths and deeper navigation channels.
The cost of the project will not be known until the completion of a technical study of the site, carried out in conjunction with QTA, Al Yafei continued.
Making Qatar a more attractive destination for international tourists is key to the state’s tourism strategy, which aims to increase the number of visitor to 7 million by 2030.
In addition to catering to seasonal tourists, the creation of proper cruise ship facilities will also assist in providing temporary accommodation for more than 10,000 football fans during the 2022 World Cup.
Earlier this year, QTA said it would contract at least 6,000 cruise ship rooms for the winter tournament. Qatar must have some 60,000 rooms available by 2022 for fans, players and officials, according to FIFA guidelines.
In Qatar’s bid document in 2010, the nation pledged to develop an ambitious 100,000 rooms by the time the tournament begins, and a massive hotel and apart-hotel building boom is underway to try to meet this target.