BAHRAIN'S cruise season is officially launched on Friday when a German liner carrying 2,300 tourists docks at the Khalifa Bin Salman Port.
The arrival of the TUI Cruises-operated Mein Schiff 2 will mark the beginning of a season that will see as many as 36 cruise ships calling at the port until March 22, a senior Transportation Ministry official told the GDN.
It will be followed by Zegrahm's Clipper Odyssey two days later and one of the world's largest cruise ships, the Aida Blu V, arriving on November 21.
"We are very excited with this development and are looking forward to welcoming thousands of tourists to Bahrain  in the coming months," the official said.
"We have been working hard during the last few months to ensure Bahrain's cruise season goes ahead in full steam, after the difficult period the country has gone through since February 2011."
He said about 32,000 cruise tourists  were expected to visit the country.
"These arrivals will give the tourism industry  a significant boost and will benefit the country's economy as well," he added.
The official said each visit would bring in between 2,000 and 2,500 cruise passengers, who will spend a day in Bahrain and visit its various tourist attractions.
"Elaborate plans have been laid out for all passengers and they will be given preferential treatment at the port and inside Bahrain," he said.
"Concessions at the port, several facilities and other offers have been carefully planned for all tourists."
Sources said the Mein Schiff 2 would make 20 calls while the Aida Blu will come 13 times.
Other ships calling include MS Astor and Fred Olsen Cruises, besides the Clipper Odyssey, which will make one call each.
There were fears that Bahrain's cruise industry could be crippled by increasing costs of insuring vessels that dock here due to unrest, after it emerged each cruise operator could have to pay an additional $300,000 over the course of a season.
However, a raft of incentives have been introduced to offset the higher insurance premiums facing operators.
The GDN previously reported that port fees would be halved for cruise ships, while tourism companies said they would offer discounts worth tens of thousands of dinars and port operator APM Terminals Bahrain pledged to reduce its charges for passengers.
"We have all chipped in to ensure we have a successful season," said Mathias Tourism managing director Richard Mathias, whose company oversees shore arrangements for the majority of cruise tourists.
The programme for cruise tourists includes a 10km trek through Bahrain's desert. There were also plans to provide a drag racing experience at the Bahrain International Circuit (BIC).
Bahrain's cruise industry - which once boasted 50 visits by major cruise liners - has been hit hard by political turmoil since February last year.
Only 29 of the scheduled 50 port calls by various liners were made to Bahrain in the 2010-2011 season, which was abruptly suspended because of protests - resulting in a loss of nearly 50,000 tourists.
German cruise company Aida was the only operator to schedule stops in Bahrain during the 2011-2012 season, but it made only seven out of 13 planned visits and cited massive insurance premiums as the reason for cancelling port calls.
Tour operators said the cancellations meant losses of at least $5 million in tourist spending alone.
Every vessel that berths in Bahrain is estimated to be worth around $300,000 to the economy, according to Seatrade Middle East.