A super cruise ship has left Saudi Arabia for the first time, heading for regional waters as the kingdom seeks to expand its tourism industry and diversify its oil-dependent economy.
The MSC Bellissima, a ship with more than three football fields, set out on the first in a series of voyages from the Islamic port of Jeddah to Aqaba in Jordan and Safaga in Egypt.
The service’s launch on Friday comes two days after Saudi Arabia opened its first cruise ship terminal in the port of Jeddah on the kingdom’s west coast.
“The inauguration of the first cruise port represents an important step (…) to support the growth of the tourism sector in the kingdom,” said Cruise Saudi general manager Fawaz Farooqi, quoted by the Saudi press agency.
The development of the tourism and leisure sector is one of the foundations of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s “Vision 2030” plan to prepare the largest economy in the Arab world for the post-oil era.
The Gulf country made a historic decision in 2019 to offer tourist visas, relaxing rules that had largely restricted visits to business travelers and Muslim pilgrims.
Citizens of 49 countries – mostly European – had become eligible to apply to visit the kingdom, which has a population of around 35 million.
Built in France, the MSC Bellissima is 315 meters long and has a capacity of 4,500 passengers, making it one of the largest cruise ships in the world.
First launched in 2019 and operated by Swiss company MSC Cruises, it will make 21 trips until October 30.
– Industry affected by Covid –
The gigantic ship has an array of amenities, including swimming pools, gymnasiums, restaurants, cafes, and ballrooms.
Travel prices start at 2,195 Saudi riyals (around $ 585), according to travel agencies, with some routes including Luxor in Egypt and Petra in Jordan.
Cruise Saudi, owned by the Kingdom’s Public Investment Fund, also struck a deal in April with MSC Cruises to launch winter trips between November 2021 and March 2022.
These cruises will depart from Jeddah and Dammam on the east coast of the Gulf of Saudi Arabia with the hope of attracting 170,000 passengers.
The global cruise industry has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, which has so far resulted in the deaths of more than four million people worldwide.
Saudi Arabia steps up a nationwide Covid-19 vaccination campaign as it prepares to revive tourism and host sporting and entertainment events.
On Thursday, the kingdom announced it would open its doors to fully vaccinated visitors.
The crew of MSC Bellissima remained in quarantine for 14 days before Friday’s trip, according to Saudi State TV.
Since becoming the de facto leader in 2017, Prince Mohammed has introduced sweeping economic and social changes, including allowing women to drive, reopening cinemas, and allowing mixed music concerts and other options. Entertainment.
But simultaneously, the prince launched a sweeping crackdown on dissent and freedom of expression, arresting activists, clerics and journalists as well as members of the royal family.
© 2021 AFP