Qatar Becomes Homeport for Domestic Cruise Program

Qatar permits cruises as trial program

Published Feb 8, 2021 8:37 PM by The Maritime Executive

Qatar is poised to become the next country to permit the resumption of cruising on a limited basis. Following a similar model as other countries that permitted cruises for citizens and residents, Qatar will host a short program of cruises in March 2021.

A partnership between Discover Qatar, the national tourism agency, and Qatar Airways Holidays, is launching the cruises aboard Ponant’s Le Champlain cruise ship. The 10,000 gross ton ship is part of the company’s explorer class with accommodations for up to 184 passengers.

The trial program will feature six sailings for three-nights and four-days from Doha with opportunities for snorkeling, water sports, and visiting scenic locations to observe local marine and wildlife, including dolphins, hammerhead sharks, flamingos, dugongs, and the Whale Sharks at the north-eastern Qatar coastal waters. A team of expert guides, including marine biologists, naturalists, and ornithologists, will lead all the expeditions.

“I am hugely excited to launch our first luxury cruise for people in Qatar. With the ongoing coronavirus pandemic limiting international travel our Three Night Luxury Coastal Cruise will provide our local customers with a much-needed change of scenery and a memorable travel experience,” said Qatar Airways Group Chief Executive Akbar al-Baker.

For Ponant this charter comes days after the company was forced to cancel a similar domestic cruise program due to start this week based in New Zealand. The cruise line had received an economic exemption from the New Zealand government to permit the cruises for New Zealand residents, but Immigration New Zealand denied visas for the 61 hotel staff aboard the cruise ship. Ponant said it was unable to find local replacements for the crew that both had the experience and necessary safety certificates. The cruise program was canceled.

A range of countries has successfully used the model of domestic cruising for their citizens and residents as a means of providing travel experiences within the virus-related restrictions. Norway and Germany permitted cruises to resume last summer and more recently Singapore and Japan permitted cruises to resume under tight health and safety protocols.

Last summer, Saudi Arabia also launched a cruise program aboard Silversea Cruises’ Silver Spirit. Like the cruises planned for Qatar next month, the Saudi program was also part of a broader effort to develop the cruise market among the Gulf states. Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund recently launched a new company Cruise Saudi to establish and develop the cruise industry in Saudi Arabia. The goal is to enhance the Kingdom's efforts to become a tourist destination on the international cruise map and develop the tourism sector, including the domestic cruise market, as part of the effort to expand the non-oil industries in the region.