Emirati performers welcome passengers on a Royal Caribbean International cruise ship at Abu Dhabi Terminals at Mina Zayed with a traditional dance and songs show. The UAE accounts for 25-30 per cent of Royal Caribbean’s outbound business in the region. Image Credit: Gulf News Archive

Dubai: Royal Caribbean International expects to more than double its business in the Middle East over the next few years, according to the company's regional director for Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

"Over the next three to five years, we plan to more than double our business in the Middle East, and possibly even triple it," Helen Beck told Gulf News in an exclusive interview.

She added that the company recorded a CAGR (compounded annual growth rate) of approximately 40 per cent in guest volumes and revenue in the region over the last five years, with the momentum set to continue despite industry challenges.

Asked if the Arab Spring hit the company's revenues, Beck said it is quite the opposite. "Royal Caribbean suffered no negative impact during the Arab Spring. On the contrary, we recorded a 30 per cent growth in the Middle East in 2011 over the previous year," Beck said.

She was, however, quick to point out that there was a change in the booking trends owing to the geo-political tensions in the region, with the cruise line receiving a lot of "last-minute bookings".

"So we had to stimulate demand by changing itineraries globally because of the tensions in this region. We also had to cover prices in some sectors as a fallout. But none of these factors impacted our revenues in any way."


The UAE, meanwhile, accounts for 25-30 per cent of Royal Caribbean's outbound business in the region, according to Beck, who said the outbound cruise market in the Middle East currently is 15,000 guests per year.

Asked how the company is expected to fare in 2012, Beck said the year will be a tough one as Eurozone troubles are likely to have an impact on the cruise market. "However, we are not solely dependent on the European markets," she said. Beck said that while the North American market accounted for 80-85 per cent of Royal Caribbean's business until five years ago, in 2012 the cruise line expects its revenue to be equally divided between North America and the rest of the world.

According to the Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing, Dubai will witness a cruise tourism growth in excess of 58 per cent by 2015.

The Dubai Cruise Terminal, meanwhile, experienced 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, as per the tourism authority's estimates.

While 2011 proved to be a successful year for the cruise industry, with cruise ships hosting a record breaking 16 million passengers globally, according to industry estimates, cruise industry experts Cruise Market Watch reportedly projects the cruise industry to experience a continued rise in passenger numbers and an increase in revenue this year.

According to industry data, cruise passenger numbers are predicted to rise to 20.3 million this year, bringing in $34.1 billion (Dh125.41 billion) in revenue.