DP World yesterday announced it is expanding Port Rashid terminal facilities to consolidate its position as the largest cruise centre in the Middle East. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: DP World said yesterday it is accepting construction tenders for the expansion of Port Rashid's cruise terminal.

Dubai Cruise Terminal, which was built in 2001, can berth two cruise ships carrying a total of 7,000 passengers.

The global marine terminal operator plans to expand the terminal by 60,960 square metres to accommodate five cruise ships by the end of next year.

"Development of the cruise terminal facilities at Port Rashid supports Dubai's long term strategy to stimulate growth and development in the traditionally strong tourism sector. The new facility will help Dubai tap into the rapidly growing cruise sector," said Sultan Ahmad Bin Sulayem, chairman of DP World.

This new terminal is the first part of a major expansion plan to build a seaport village that will include recreational and retail facilities. Announcements will be made soon on the size, components and time frame of the whole development.

The Dubai cruise terminal currently handles Costa Cruises, Aida and Royal Caribbean. The terminal is expecting two new cruise lines in the coming months. German cruise company TUI will start winter hub operations here next year, and the vessel MSC Lirica, which arrives in Dubai on October 28 en route to Abu Dhabi, will use the country as its winter home port for the first time.

The Dubai cruise terminal saw a 30 per cent growth in tourist traffic between 2009 and 2010 from 100 ships and 260,000 passengers to 120 ships and more than 390,000 passengers. This growth is set to continue in 2011 with a total of 135 vessel calls and 475,000 passengers.

According to Khalid Bin Sulayem, director general of Dubai Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM), the emirate is expecting 58 per cent growth in cruise tourism by 2015.

"The new facilities will be very attractive for cruise operators and their passengers, and for the tourism industry as a whole," said Bin Sulayem.

Hamad Bin Mejren, executive director for business tourism at DTCM, put the value of cruise tourism in Dubai at Dh3.5 billion between 2010 and 2015.

Dubai recently hosted the Seatrade Middle East Cruise Convention in which industry players gathered to discuss the opportunities and challenges faced in expanding the sector.

Issues raised included the visas, which continues to deter tourists from embarking on cruises from here. Multiple-entry visas are issued to business visitors, but cruise ship passengers currently must obtain a different visa for each UAE port they visit. The issue is currently under discussion.