For the first time four of the world’s leading cruise lines are participating at GIBTM - the Gulf Incentive, Business Travel and Meetings Exhibition, which is being held at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (ADNEC) from the 28th to 30th March.
According to Lloyd Kenyon, GIBTM’s Exhibition Manager, the participation of four of the world’s most respected cruise line operators - Costa Cruises, Silversea Cruises, MSC Cruises and Royal Caribbean International - are testament to the fact that cruises are gradually being recognized by corporate bookers as a new travel option and have been taken as an important form of employee incentive travel, an embodiment of corporate culture, and a way of thanking clients in addition to being the perfect venues for meetings and conferences.
“You can think of cruise ships as floating conference centres, complete with state of the art auditoriums and meeting rooms; and since your colleagues can’t stray too far when they’re on board, it is much easier for organisers to arrange last minute changes to their programme schedules,” says Kenyon “A cruise can actually save a great deal compared to the costs of a hotel and then laying on entertainment and other extras because almost everything is included in the one price. It is no surprise that in the wake of the financial downturn, cruise tourism has emerged as one of the strongest growth areas in Dubai’s hospitality sector.”
Royal Caribbean International is nearing the end of its second season serving the Gulf coast with each sailing virtually fully booked.
“Interest in our cruises has been so strong that we will be adding more sailings in our third season starting in November 2011,” says Lakshmi Durai, Executive Director Royal Caribbean Middle East.
“For us exhibiting at GIBTM for the first time makes perfect sense since interest from the Middle East in holding meetings and incentives events on board cruise ships has grown by 76 per cent compared to last year.
“Corporate business accounts for 10 per cent of our total bookings for the year 2010. The insurance and pharmaceutical industries especially, are interested in booking meetings & incentives on cruise ships,” Durai adds.
Fabrizia Greppi, Vice President for Corporate Marketing and Communications for Costa Cruises, an Italian company which, for the fifth winter in a row, is offering seven-day cruises in the Arabian Gulf, says that the Cruise companies long ago saw the potential of hosting conferences and exhibitions on board their vessels.
“Delegates get to enjoy a mini-cruise on the back of their work-related activities; and more and more companies are opting to take them to the Middle East, typically visiting ports in Oman and the UAE,” says Greppi.
“Our ships are well suited for catering to MICE delegates,” continues Greppi, “as we can provide meeting rooms and audio/visual equipment as well as break-out rooms for larger groups as required.
“We are exhibiting at GIBTM specifically to tell everyone that cruise ships are the ideal venue for corporate clients wishing to hold conferences as the hassle of arranging hotel, meals, activities and entertainment separately is eliminated and the all-in price is highly competitive with on-shore options.”
MSC Cruises’ Chief Executive Officer Pierfrancesco Vago, concurs. “We offer 19 seven-night cruises from Abu Dhabi and Dubai giving our guests an unforgettable experience of Arabia,” he says. “An added bonus is that our MICE clients are able to combine meetings with short break holidays; and they get to explore multiple destinations without any hassle as they do not have to pack and unpack more than once. Corporate clients are relatively new to appreciating the benefits of holding their meetings onboard a cruise line, but we are now receiving a steady stream of enquiries from this market,” Vago adds.
Abu Dhabi’s ambition to become an international cruise hub has received a significant boost, following the signing, between Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA) and MSC Cruises of a landmark co-operation agreement that will see MSC Cruises deploy one of its top vessels to the UAE capital on a homeport basis from October 2011. Under the terms of the agreement, Abu Dhabi’s Mina Zayed Port will serve as the primary embarkation and disembarkation point for the Italian operator’s maiden regional itinerary - scheduled for the 2011-2012 season - using its luxury MSC Lirica liner that will operate 95 calls and 19 rotations in the region.
ADTA had completed a cruise tourism study in February, with a key output being that full-fledged homeport status for Abu Dhabi has the potential to deliver upwards of 50,000 new visitors annually. MSC Lirica’s 19 voyages next season translates to a potential of 39,000 cruise arrivals alone.
Sean Mahoney, Global Vice President of Corporate and Incentive Sales at Silversea Cruises believes that GIBTM is an ideal venue for publicising his company. “Our cruise ships come into Dubai on a variety of routes, which include Singapore, Monte Carlo, the Seychelles, Mauritius and Greece. In this current business and economic environment, business strategies must consist of activities with a measurable and favourable return on investment. Silversea’s decision to exhibit at GIBTM is based on our past experiences and the organisers’ reputation for delivering a first rate event encompassing scheduled appointments with highly qualified buyers from around the globe. GIBTM is the ideal venue to meet with a variety of buyers both regionally and internationally in a professional environment.”
Dubai’s cruise industry has seen a rapid rise is traffic in recent years and Lloyd Kenyon is convinced that MICE business is destined for even higher growth in the years ahead. “Last year, Dubai’s cruise industry got a major boost with the opening of a new 3,450 m2 terminal in Port Rashid, which has the capacity to handle four ships at one time,” says Kenyon.
“Given the high cost of staying in some hotels in the region, cruising offers relatively good value, as state rooms start as low as $90 per person per day, including meals and entertainment. Dubai officials are forecasting a massive growth in cruise bookings in the next few years. Much of that will be as a result of bookings from the MICE sector, and GIBTM is the perfect place for the cruise lines to meet with potential customers and to re-establish with existing clients,” he concludes.