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PIF-backed Cruise Saudi unveils first ship

Queen Mary 2 cruise ship southern Red Sea Reuters/Eva Tomsic
A cruise ship in the southern Red Sea: demand for cruises in the region almost doubled in 2023
  • Maiden voyage in 2024
  • Global cruise industry rebounds
  • Passengers due to rise 25%

Aroya Cruises has unveiled its first ship as global demand continues to rise.

The company, which is operated by state-backed Cruise Saudi, said the 335-metre-long vessel is undergoing refurbishment before it makes its maiden voyage from Jeddah in 2024. It will include 19 decks and 1,682 cabins.

“We are delighted to sail into the new year with the unveiling of our first Aroya Cruises ship,” Lars Clasen, CEO of Cruise Saudi, said in a press statement. “We look forward to welcoming the first passengers on board.”

Cruise Saudi was launched in 2021 and is owned by the kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund.

The industry has rebounded strongly after the impact of the Covid pandemic.

Cruise tourism dropped in 2021 to 16 percent of 2019 capacity. However, it was at 106 percent in 2023, data from the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA) suggests. This beats a projection made by the United Nations World Tourism Organization of 80 to 95 percent of 2019’s volumes for the entire travel sector.

The CLIA estimates that the number of passengers will rise by a quarter from 31.5 million in 2023 to 39.5 in 2027.

North America is still the largest source for passengers, attracting 12.6 million in 2022, against 5.4 million from Europe and 161,000 from the Middle East.

The CLIA found that the Caribbean is still the most popular destination, attracting nine million passengers in 2022, down 25 percent from a peak of 12 million in 2019. The Middle East and Africa had 264,000 passengers last year, down 48 percent from 515,000 in 2019.

Top destinations

Within the Middle East Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Muscat are the main destinations.

Demand in the region has almost doubled this year, data released this week by Iglu Cruise, a UK-based independent cruise travel agency, revealed.

“This could be partly due to the addition of Doha becoming a port of call or stop-over destination,” Dave Mills, chief commercial officer, said.

The research company Statista estimates that revenue from the cruise market will reach $25.14 billion this year. It forecasts an average annual growth rate of 7.84 percent, to $36.67 billion by 2028.

Cruise Saudi estimates it will contribute $200 million in revenues to the Saudi economy, as it aims to attract 1.3 million passengers by 2035.

In a video interview with AGBI at the annual Arabian Travel Market, Cruise Saudi’s chief asset development and port operations officer, Miguel Reyna, said: “On average, when a ship comes to the port, 35 percent of the guests go on tours. Our hope is that 70 to 80 percent of the passengers will go.”

Three Saudi ports are capable of handling cruise liners: Yanbu Commercial Port, Jeddah Islamic Port and King Abdulaziz Port Dammam. These have helped develop the kingdom’s cruising sector over the past two years. 

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