Every year, cruise ships flock to the Gulf to sample the delights Dubai has to offer. Jamal Humaid al-Falasi, director of Dubai Cruise Tourism, talks to World Cruise Industry Review about the city’s attractions and upcoming plans to upgrade its cruise terminal capacity.

What advantages do cruise operators gain by adding Dubai to their destination rosters?

Jamal Humaid al-Falasi: Dubai’s geographical location makes it the perfect interchange between East and West, with visitors from around the world stopping by to experience the city’s array of offerings. More than 20 cruise lines currently include Dubai in their itineraries for a variety of reasons, including the availability of visas on arrival for 46 nationalities, a simplified online visa process and the implementation of the multi-entry UAE-visit visa. Dubai Cruise Terminal is also not far from Dubai International Airport, which connects travellers to over 240 destinations around the world.

A number of attractions await visitors to Dubai, including the Burj Al Arab and Burj Khalifa, the tallest tower in the world. Families will love entertainment destinations such as Ski Dubai and KidZania, plus two new attractions: IMG Worlds of Adventure, and Dubai Parks and Resorts, due to open in August and October respectively. Those looking for an authentic Emirati experience can also cruise the dunes on a desert safari, or cross Dubai Creek on an abra, a traditional boat. These form just parts of the larger Dubai experience that makes the emirate a must-visit destination for cruise tourists.

Dubai’s winter has always been a key driver of tourism for its winter sun; cruise tourists can also make the most of an array of events and concerts that take place across Dubai at that time of year. Our extensive hospitality offering caters to a wide variety of tourists, and we look forward to seeing more cruise passengers visit Dubai this winter.

What investments has the emirate made to upgrade the docking facilities for cruise ships and luxury yachts entering and exiting the port of Dubai?

We have welcomed more than 138 ship calls during the current cruise season, and look forward to increasing the city’s prowess as a cruise destination. We aim to grow by another 6% during the forthcoming tourism season, in which we expect to host 150 cruise vessels, carrying 575,000 passengers.

Dubai has the largest and most modern cruise terminal facilities in the Middle East, with the capacity to handle the complete passenger turnaround of five cruise ships simultaneously. Since its opening in December 2014, the Hamdan bin Mohammed Cruise Terminal has successfully hosted several kinds of cruise ships from the fleets of some of the world’s leading cruise lines.

Dubai Cruise Terminal also offers visitors customs and handling facilities with streamlined immigration and entry procedures, coordinated by the General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs. Features include duty-free outlets, plus shops selling everything from souvenirs and electronics to jewellery; spa, aerial and coach tour-operator outlets; currency exchange and ATMs; a VIP business centre; dedicated taxi ranks; a complimentary shuttle bus service to shopping malls; and free Wi-Fi. The terminal also houses offices for police, customs, immigration, security and shipping agents, to ensure the safe and swift turnaround of cruise ships.

What are your goals in terms of increased passenger numbers and cruise ship calls within the next decade or so?

In line with our overall strategic vision, we aim to attract a million maritime tourists a year by 2020. This will come in tandem with our further development of Mina Rashid port into a tourist destination through the enhancement of connectivity and capacity.

We also look forward to the arrival of Thomson Cruises to Dubai later this year, marking the first ever UK-based cruise line to home port in Dubai in addition to the five other leading cruise lines. This will not only add to our existing roster of home-porting cruise lines, but will also play a role in increasing the number of cruise visitors to Dubai.