Tourists outside ‘Brilliance of the Seas’ cruise docked at Port Rashid passenger terminal in Dubai. Image Credit: Pankaj Sharma/Gulf News Archives

Dubai: A multiple-entry visa system for cruise tourists in the UAE, introduced earlier this year, will help boost ship calls by 16 per cent and passenger numbers by 7 per cent next season, according to a senior executive at the Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM).

The coming season, which will run from September 2015 to June 2016, is expected to attract 128 ship calls and 410,000 passengers compared to 110 ship calls and 381,000 passengers in the current season which ends June 2015.

The new visa system, which took effect August 1, now allows tourists to enter the UAE multiple times though any of its ports.

“I’m seeing [cruise passengers] using the multiple entry visa. This will have a bigger impact in the following seasons,” Hamad Bin Mejren, Executive Director-Business Tourism at DTCM, told Gulf News in an interview.

Cruise lines like Costa Cruises, Aida Cruises, MSC and TUI are docking at Dubai’s Mina Rashid in the current season.

“[The visa system] will also contribute to bringing more vessels from these companies, and we expect demand to grow as a result. We are working with our existing cruise companies to increase deployment,” Bin Mejren said.

Citing an example, he said that Aida Cruises is deploying a second ship to Mina Rashid this season.

Next season is expected to see high traffic of cruise passengers, according to cruise operators and travel agencies.

“We’re delighted with the implementation of the multiple entry visa in the UAE and this absolutely supports our global sales strategy. We expect to see a greater diversity of guests travelling to the UAE … particularly from China, India, Latin America, South Africa, Russia and Central/Eastern European countries,” Helen Beck, regional director at Royal Caribbean International, said in an emailed statement.

Royal Caribbean International, which left the Dubai market in 2013 owing to loss in revenue growth, expects to return in September 2015.

Echoing DTCM’s Bin Mejren, Samer Assaad, director at Alpha Holidays Dubai, the preferred sales agent of Costa Cruises, said: “There will definitely be growth in passengers.”

Ghassan Aridi, chief executive of Dubai-based Alpha Tours, the parent company of Alpha Holidays Dubai, said the number of cruise packages sold for the current season has gone up 7 per cent from last year. He expects a growth of 10 per cent for the following season.

The multiple entry visa system is expected to attract more passengers from markets including India, China, Russia, South Africa, Brazil and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) for which previous regulations made the cost significantly higher. The current tourism permit for cruise passengers costs Dh200.

Experts said that a single visa for the GCC countries would also give impetus to passenger numbers for cruise trips in the region. “This would definitely be an asset in driving demand for our Arabian Gulf cruises. Any facilitation in visa requirements and processing makes a destination more appealing to those countries requiring additional paperwork and is certainly one that we would support,” Royal Caribbean’s Beck said.

A GCC visa can speed things up in the cruise business as ships use Dubai as the hub to sail to other countries in the GCC including Oman, Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait.