(CNN) – Saudi Arabia is set to become the starting point of a major cruise line for the first time later this year, with MSC Cruises making a new round of trips exploring the Red Sea.
The Swiss-based company is teaming up with Cruise Saudi, a Saudi organization that works to promote the country as a cruise destination.
MSC Cruises plans to welcome its MSC Magnifica ship to historic Jeddah.
From there, visitors will embark on seven-day Red Sea cruises, stopping in Aqaba for the spectacular ancient city of Petra in Jordan and stopping at the port of Safaga, Egypt, to see the ancient sites of Luxor. There will also be stopovers at two other Saudi ports, AlWajh and Yanbu.
The cruise itinerary is expected to operate from November 2021 to March 2022.
Meanwhile, MSC Virtuosa – a ship that has yet to be launched and is expected to be showcased first on MSC’s upcoming summer voyages to the UK – will sail the Persian Gulf, including stops in the city of Dammam in Saudi Arabia and the Al- Ahsa Oasis World Heritage Site.
Saudi Arabia has attempted to market itself as an international tourist destination in recent years with the goal of diversifying its oil-dependent economy by 2030.
It is investing huge sums in developing luxury resorts and promoting historic treasures, but will face challenges in attracting visitors who may have already been deterred by the country’s poor reputation for human rights and laws. conservatives that restrict women’s freedoms.
MSC Cruises is the first major cruise line to settle in Saudi Arabia. Local sightseeing cruise operator Red Sea Spirit launched Red Sea cruises in August 2020.
Future cruise plans
In a statement, Cruise Saudi said it wanted to make the deal with MSC Cruises a “long-term partnership.”
“We look forward to exploring the opportunities to increase the number and size of ships operating on Saudi routes in the future,” said Fawaz Farooqui, Managing Director of Cruise Saudi.
Meanwhile, Pierfrancesco Vago of MSC Cruises said in a statement that the cruise line was drawn to “the richness of the local heritage”. Vago said he hopes the trips will attract tourists from around the world, as well as local visitors from Saudi Arabia.
The global cruise industry has been severely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. The cruise has tentatively restarted in some markets – including Italy, via MSC Cruises and Costa Cruise Line – but currently remains out of service in the United States.
Meanwhile, several cruise lines are planning domestic UK travel this summer, including Disney, P&O, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruise Line and Cunard.
Some cruise lines – including Royal Caribbean and Celebrity – plan to limit upcoming trips to vaccinated passengers only.
CNN Travel has contacted MSC Cruises to confirm the Covid-19 security requirements that will be in place when traveling to Saudi Arabia.