Costa Deliziosa naming ceremonyDUBAI -- Costa Cruises signaled its dedication to the Dubai emirate, and to the Middle East region, when it named its newest ship here last week.

Costa Cruises officially launched the 2,286-passenger Costa Deliziosa in a ceremony that featured displays of Italian and local culture, highlighted by an equestrian show with 44 Arabian horses.

Attendees included passengers sailing on the Deliziosa's inaugural cruise from Italy as well as the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. The ship's godmother was Tala Dionisi, the wife of Italy's ambassador to the United Arab Emirates.

In deference to local tradition, a bottle of sparkling date juice was broken on the ship's hull instead of the traditional bottle of champagne. It is forbidden to drink alcohol in public in Dubai (although there is plenty flowing in many bars and restaurants).

Costa Chairman and CEO Pier Luigi Foschi said that naming the Deliziosa here represented the cruise line's dedication to Dubai, where Costa was the first line to base a cruise ship, in 2006.

Costa, Carnival Corp.'s Italian cruise brand, has since tripled its capacity here, and will carry 140,000 passengers on three ships from Dubai this year.

New terminal, too

The ceremony also marked the opening of Dubai's new cruise terminal, which is more than 37,000 square feet in size and can handle four ships at once.

Hamad bin Mejren, Dubai's tourism director, said at the naming ceremony last week that the terminal was an indication of Dubai's "commitment and dedication to the development" of the cruise industry.

Cruise tourism has emerged as the fastest-growing segment of tourism here.

Overall, Dubai tourism numbers slipped 6% last year with the global economy. Hotel occupancy rates in all of the United Arab Emirates fell 4.9%, according to a report by STR Global.

Visitors on cruise ships, however, will increase this year to 325,000 on 125 ship calls, from 263,000 on 80 calls in 2009.

Costa Deliziosa naming ceremonyCruise passenger visits have jumped by more than 350% since 2001, from 71,000. In 15 years, Dubai expects to reach 195 calls and 575,000 passengers.

Foschi noted that Dubai opened a cruise terminal in 2001 before there was any demand or sign that cruising would become popular in the region. "That foresight was rewarded by Costa," Foschi said.

This winter season, the Deliziosa's sister ship, the Luminosa, is also sailing from Dubai. And the 1,494-passenger Costa Europa is operating a short series of cruises here, as well.

Costa's success here also brought competition. Royal Caribbean International based the 2,501-passenger Brilliance of the Seas here this winter, its first time sailing from Dubai.

Noting the increase in competition, Foschi said that when Costa pioneered cruising here, it "opened new cruise itineraries to the world."

As one of the fastest-growing lines, with five new ships set to debut by 2012, Costa has often set its sights on far-flung destinations.

Costa was the first to sail out of China, also in 2006, and this year it said it would become the first line to base a ship in Sharm al-Sheikh, Egypt, starting in 2011.

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