BAHRAIN'S cruise season has been cancelled due to ongoing unrest, resulting in a loss of nearly 50,000 tourists, it has emerged.
None of the large cruise liners that make at least three calls to the Khalifa bin Salman Port every week have docked since the start of incidents from mid-February, said tour operators.
They have now dropped Bahrain from the cruise ship calendar altogether for the remainder of the season, which ends next month.
This will mean losses of at least $5 million (BD1.9m) in tourism spending alone, they added.
"The last cruise liner, Aida from Germany, came in on February 15, a day after the unrest began and that visit passed off peacefully," said Mathias Tourism managing director Richard Mathias.
He said two days later, a letter was sent out from the Culture Ministry's tourism sector to the Dubai office of Costa Cruises advising them of a possible change in itinerary in the next few days following the developments in Bahrain.
Mr Mathias said the cruise operator was told to decide whether they wanted to choose another date.
"That, coupled with the international media's reporting of the incidents, led them to cancel the cruises for the entire season," said Mr Mathias.
He said the cancellation meant a loss of at least 40,000 tourists who would have come to Bahrain.
This is in addition to several thousands of tourists from other smaller cruise liners that followed suit, added Mr Mathias.
"Estimates are that each tourist spends at least $125 in the country and that translates to a huge sum," he said.
Mr Mathias said his company alone had to dispense with the services of at least 50 bus drivers, as well as 30 guides whose livelihoods had been directly affected.
"In addition, there are taxi drivers and others who made a living during the cruise season, which lasts from November to April," he said.
Al Gosaibi Travel general manager Issac Mathew, whose company also offers shore excursions, said the cancellation would mean tremendous losses for a lot of people.
"We are suffering in business in any case with not many people travelling, but this is going to hit us bad as well," he said.
Mr Mathew said though they had not decided to lay off anyone at the moment, if this situation continued, they would be forced to do so.
"We cannot continue like this for long," he said.
A Costa official said their ships would skip Bahrain for the time being.
He said Costa cruises would resume calling at Bahrain only when the relevant international authorities and the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs have declared stability and safety has been restored.
Officials of Al Sharif Group, the local agents of the cruise ships that come to Bahrain, declined to comment yesterday, saying they would do so at the appropriate time.
"We will make a statement soon," said group president and chief executive officer Ali Al Sharif.
Culture Ministry acting assistant under-secretary for tourism Nada Ahmed Yaseen said Bahrain was always open and welcomed all visitors, including cruise tourists.
"Considering the current situation, excursions could not have been arranged for the cruise ships that would have called at Bahrain on February 18 and 19," she said.
"Now that the height of the problems is over, the cruise lines are welcome to call at Bahrain as normal.
"I would like to stress the recent events do not reflect the true nature of Bahrain and the situation has stabilised significantly.
"Bahrain is a very friendly country and renowned as such in the region.
"While gatherings are continuing, they are peaceful and will not affect the tourism industry."
Meanwhile, Bahrain's Taxi and Pick Up Drivers Union chairman Mohammed Abdulla said between 120 and 130 taxis were being used by the tourists every time a ship calls at the port.
"That has all stopped and if it continues, we will be in deep trouble," he said.
"We are in any case suffering from the effects of the unrest and this has been the last straw."
The GDN had reported last year that Bahrain could be set for a $21m (BD7.9m) windfall as a result of the country's booming cruise ship industry.
Every vessel that berths in Bahrain could be worth around $300,000 (BD113,400) to the economy, said Seatrade Middle East at the start of the cruise season.
It said that the cruise industry in Bahrain was only just taking off in a big way and was likely to do very well in the future.