HH Sheikh Sultan Bin Tahnoon, Chairman ADTA and a delegation of industry VIPs on their tour of MSC Lirica

Abu Dhabi has reached a new milestone in its cruise tourism development with the arrival at Mina Zayed’s new temporary cruise terminal of the MSC Lirica cruise ship – the first to home port in the UAE capital.

The 59,000 ton MSC Lirica arrived last night from Genoa, Italy. The liner, her passengers and crew, were given a warm Abu Dhabi welcome with a spectacular fireworks display before disembarking to the cruise terminal where displays of henna design, falconry and calligraphy as well as traditional Yolla and Ayallah dancing awaited.

MSC Lirica will set sail tomorrow on the first of 19, eight night/seven day itineraries for the 2011/2012 season cruising around Abu Dhabi and the Emirates and calling at Muscat, Al Fujairah, Khasab in Oman and Dubai with 95 calls and rotations. Onboard for her maiden Gulf sailing, passengers will be staying in the liner’s 780 cabins.

Today a special ceremony was staged at the cruise terminal to officially welcome MSC Lirica ‘home.’ The ceremony was attended by HH Sheikh Sultan Bin Tahnoon Al Nahyan, Chairman, Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA), His Excellency Mubarak Al Muhairi, Director General, ADTA, Pierfrancesco Vago, Chief Executive Officer, MSC Cruises, with world championship star and former Captain of the Italy National Football team Fabio Cannavaro attending as MSC Cruises’ guest of honour.

Sheikh Sultan told guests at the ceremony that MSC Lirica would be remembered for breaking new ground in Abu Dhabi. “We hope she has set a course that many others will follow,” he said. “Many of the guests MSC Lirica has brought here – and many more she will in the future – will see the UAE capital for the first time. We hope it will not be their last. Our studies show that 30% of cruise passengers return to the home port for longer stay and we look forward to welcoming these new arrivals back time and again. Investment in this temporary cruise terminal will prove worthwhile with ADTA coming together with Abu Dhabi Ports Company, Abu Dhabi Terminals and Tourism Development & Investment Company to ensure our valued cruise visitors receive an appropriate welcome.”

The home porting of MSC Lirica follows the signing, a year ago, of a landmark agreement between ADTA and MSC Cruises, one of the world’s fastest-growing cruise operators and a market leader in the Mediterranean, South Africa and Brazil, to deploy one of its top vessels on a home port basis in Abu Dhabi. Since then the two partners have jointly participated in trade exhibitions, marketing and advertising campaigns globally and brought their combined influence, channels and brands to bear in promoting the emirate.

At today’s Mina Zayed welcoming ceremony, Pierfrancesco Vago, Chief Executive Officer, MSC Cruises, commented: “I am proud of what we’ve achieved so far and confident that this is just the beginning of a great new era for cruise tourism in the United Arab Emirates. I look forward to a long and mutually beneficial relationship between us, the port and tourism authorities and one that will ensure visitors from around the world an exciting new dimension to travel in the region. It is a future we can all look forward to.”

“Signalling our firm faith in Abu Dhabi as an innovative and highly desirable new holiday destination, we plan to bring a further ultra-modern ship – MSC Opera – to Abu Dhabi in 2012/2013. This ship, which has a larger capacity than MSC Lirica with 867 cabins, will sail 25 cruises with 125 calls and bring a further 54,000 passengers per year to the area.”

ADTA has estimated the MSC’s decision to home port the ship in Abu Dhabi will generate up to US $ 22 million per season in direct economic impact on the tourism, airline, accommodation, retail, transport, food and beverage and attractions sectors.

Cruise tourism has been prioritized as a core pillar in Abu Dhabi’s tourism targets which aim to achieve 2.3 million hotel guests by the end of next year. Abu Dhabi anticipates receiving around 170,000 cruise visitors before the 2011/2012 season ends next April.

The new temporary cruise terminal at Mina Zayed is capable of simultaneously accommodating 1,300 passengers and has been designed to cater for the 2011/2012 and 2012/2013 cruise seasons.

The terminal spans some 2,000 square metres and comprises two dedicated halls – one a luggage-handling facility, the other a passenger centre complete with a waiting lounge, security section, prayer rooms, offices, visitor information centre, currency exchange as well as customs and immigration facilities.

In line with its long-term cruise ambitions, ADTA is championing for the development of a permanent, purpose-built cruise terminal at Mina Zayed.

“Ultimately our capacity to build the cruise tourism business will rely on a combination of good planning, first-class infrastructure, strong marketing and stakeholders,” explained HE Mubarak Al Muhairi, Director General, ADTA.

“We have strong hopes of the cruise business continuing to grow into the future with longer term projections for 300 calls and 600,000 passengers by 2030.”

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