Royal Caribbean International’s ship ‘Brilliance of the Seas’ at Port Rashid Cruise Terminal in Dubai. Royal Caribbean began operating in the Arabian Gulf in 2009 serving ports in the UAE and Oman. Image Credit: Pankaj Sharma/Gulf News Archives

Dubai: Royal Caribbean could return to Dubai and the Arabian Gulf for the 2015/2016 season, an executive at the company told Gulf News on Thursday.

The United States-based cruise company previously announced it would not return to the Gulf market for the 2014 season citing a decline in demand.

But Helen Beck, Regional Director, International Representatives Europe, Middle East & Africa (EMEA), told Gulf News there was potential for a return.

“We’re evaluating it right now … [we’re] right in the middle of discussing opportunity for the potential for the 2015/2016 season,” she said.

Royal Caribbean began operating in the Arabian Gulf in 2009 serving ports in the UAE and Oman.

Beck said she was pleased with the “positive progress” across the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries towards supporting cruise tourism and investments in infrastructure.

In 2012 Royal Caribbean carried five million guests resulting in revenue of $7.7 billion dollars. Despite the Gulf missing from the calendar this season, the cruise operator is confident bookings from the Middle East will continue to grow.

Lakshmi Durai, Executive Director – Middle East at Royal Caribbean International, said the company recorded double digit growth in passengers from the Middle East, who she said, predominantly travelled on the Mediterranean cruises.

Emerging market

Along with the growth of Middle East-based passenger bookings, Durai said 70 per cent of those passengers were Arab nationals from countries right across the region including strong bookings from the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Lebanon.

But Beck admits that the UAE and Middle East region is still an emerging market for one of the worlds largest cruise operators. She said passengers from the United States, China, and other markets still dominated bookings.

Any return to the Arabian Gulf is likely to see similar operations as before with Royal Caribbean likely to dock in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Muscat.

“When we return we will to do something similar to what we were doing before,” Beck said.

Elsewhere in the market, Beck said it was too soon to assess opportunities in Iran, which could begin to open up to the international market as sanctions lessen. While she said Royal Caribbean would not enter the Iranian market in the immediate future, she didn’t rule out future opportunities.