With the redevelopment of Doha Port into a dedicated cruise terminal, Qatar aims to attract visitors to its shores and boost its position on the Gulf maritime route.
Back in 2014, the Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA) announced its intentions to transform Doha’s old port into a cruise and leisure yacht hub. In parallel, the Qatar Ports Management Company, Mwani, was working on the development of Hamad Port, a USD7.4 billion logistics facility with capacity to handle 1.7 million tons per annum. The completion of both projects is aimed at separating passenger and cargo activities and bolstering Qatar’s position in the maritime industry. In 2016, the tourism and port authorities started cooperating to upgrade Doha Port into a fully fledged cruise terminal. The project, valued at USD550 million, is expected to welcome the world’s largest cruise ships when fully operational in 2019.
As stated in the National Tourism Sector Strategy, the peninsula aims to reach 7 million visitors by 2030. In this regard, building a turnaround cruise destination seems the best idea to boost the arrival of tourists to its borders. The 2016-2017 season kicked off in style with the docking of the world’s largest residential yacht at Doha Port. “The World” was the first ship to use Qatar’s new entry procedure, which allows cruise passengers to disembark immediately after arriving. In December 2016, the new Hamad Port was inaugurated and a provisional cruise terminal was put into service until the redevelopment of Doha Port is completed. Three days before New Year’s, Qatar welcomed its first mega cruise ship, MSC Fantasia, with 3,000 passengers and 1,300 crew members.
May saw the closure of the cruise season, which ended with remarkable growth in both the numbers of ships and passengers. Between October 2016 and April 2017, 23 ships were registered at Qatar’s shores with 47,000 passengers, representing a three-fold increase on last season’s figures. A big factor of this success was the rollout of a new free 96-hour transit visa for tourists making it easy for any passenger on board to disembark in the country.
Such figures are a point of reference for the new phase of the National Tourism Sector Strategy. Outlined by QTA, the report expects Qatar to triple its number of cruise ships visits over the next three years, bringing the number of cruise tourists to nearly 300,000 during the 2019-2020 season. The tourism authorities are working with Mwani to carefully plan, develop, and manage the cruise terminal facilities, infrastructure, and operations needed to achieve such growth. Once all developments are completed, the cruise industry is expected to generate nearly USD100 million per annum.
In addition to catering to seasonal tourists, the creation of proper cruise ship facilities will also assist in providing temporary accommodation for more than 10,000 football fans during the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Earlier this year, QTA said it would contract at least 6,000 cruise ship rooms for the winter tournament. According to FIFA guidelines, Qatar must have some 60,000 rooms available by 2022 for fans, players, and officials.
Meanwhile, the 2017-2018 season looks promising. While Doha Port continues its development to enable bigger ships to dock by creating deeper berths and navigation channels, QTA announced the conclusion of an agreement with a German cruise liner to include Qatar in its itineraries. Under this deal, seven cruise ships with up to 17,500 visitors would berth in Qatar before April next year.
The presence of a homeport for cruise lines would enhance Qatar and the Gulf’s position as a tourist destination. The cruise market can be a pillar of growth that accelerates the state’s diversification efforts and brings in more people to discover the products on offer. As operators will launch 55 new ships between 2015 and 2020, the global cruise industry is expected to grow in the coming years, and Qatar has the opportunity to capture a large share of this market.