Dubai officials are forecasting 575,000 passengers by 2015 up sharply from 325,000 during the 2009/2010 season. "Cruises are an important part of Dubai's tourism as a whole and it's growing rapidly," said Hamad Mohammad Bin Mejren, executive director of business development at Dubai's department of tourism and commerce marketing (DTCM), in a prepared statement, in conjunction with the start of the 2010/2011 season.

Officials launched the new cruise season aboard the Costa Deliziosa in Port Rashid in Dubai. Bin Mejren said Costa's entry into Dubai with the Costa Europa had provided the launch pad for the sector with several competitors following.

"In 2009 to 2010 there was 30 percent growth (over the prior season). In 2011, we expect huge growth. By 2015 we expect to reach 190 ship calls and 575,000 passengers," he said.

This year (2010), there were 120 ship calls with about 325,000 passengers.

Port Development

Earlier this year, Dubai opened its new cruise terminal at Port Rashid. Bin Mejren said a temporary cruise facility is also being built to handle the growth expected in the next two years.

Bin Mejren noted that further port developments is needed throughout the UAE and the Gulf. "We need others to develop so cruises will have more destinations on their itineraries. More options will mean more ships," he said. Costa and AIDA Cruises were the first to market regular cruises in the Arabian Gulf, turning Dubai into a cruise destination and contributing to its growth as a tourist resort. Bin Mejren said that prior to this, the terminal received only about five ship calls in the whole of 2001.

In a ceremony earlier this year in Dubai, the Costa Deliziosa was the first cruise ship to be named in the Gulf. During the winter, the vessel is sailing seven-day cruises in the Arabian Gulf, departing from Dubai and calling at Muscat, Fujairah, Abu Dhabi and Bahrain.