RIYADH: MSC Cruises expects half the passengers on its new Jeddah-based cruises to come from Saudi Arabia with the remainder from around the world as it prepares to become the first operator to homeport in Jeddah.
While prices for Saudis have yet to be announced, the cost of its seven-day Red Sea itinerary from Jeddah for passengers from the UK starts at £929 ($1,315), Achille Staiano, vice president of global sales at MSC Cruises, told Arab News.
The seven-night itinerary aboard the MSC Magnifica will take in the Saudi ports of Al-Wajh and Yanbu as well as Aqaba for Petra in Jordan and Safaga for Luxor in Egypt. Red Sea Spirit, the cruise operator affiliated with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), currently offers domestic services to Ras Al-Abyad and Sindalah Island in NEOM.
As well as the new Red Sea cruises from Jeddah with MSC Magnifica, the company’s newest ship MSC Virtuosa will visit Dammam during her first season in the Gulf from her homeport in Dubai. MSC Opera will also be based in Dubai for winter 2021/22 for cruises to Oman.
PIF launched Cruise Saudi in January of this year to develop a cruise industry in the Kingdom and help create more than 50,000 jobs in the tourism industry through 2035. It will develop ports and terminals in several Saudi cities to give access to Saudi heritage and culture, including three of the five UNESCO World Heritage sites that are near the coast.
“Having witnessed at first-hand the richness of the local heritage, I am impressed with Saudi Arabia’s ability to preserve its traditions and culture and make them available for the world to see,” MSC Cruises Executive Chairman Pierfrancesco Vago told Arab News. “I am delighted that MSC Cruises will be in a position to contribute to the Kingdom’s opening to international visitors through becoming a premier cruise destination.”
MSC is also hoping to attract passengers interested in the inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in Jeddah on Dec. 5.
The global cruise industry has been hard hit by travel restrictions as a result of the coronavirus pandemic with most services continuing to be suspended.
Before making its debut in the Gulf later this year, the MSC Virtuosa last week became the first cruise ship to sail from a British port in over a year when it left Southampton on Thursday.
The four-night excursion included only one stop, at the island of Portland in southwest England.
The Greek island of Corfu welcomed its first cruise ship of the new season on Tuesday with 600 people disembarking.
MSC said it is well prepared for the return of global tourists with health and safety protocols tailored to the current situation in place. However, it is not currently making vaccines a mandatory condition of travel, Staiano said.