MSC Cruises has signed a deal that will allow it to offer cruises in Saudi Arabia this winter.

The line plans to base ships MSC Magnifica and MSC Virtuosa in the Middle East after signing a partnership with investment fund-owned business Cruise Saudi, which was set up earlier this year to find alternative revenue sources for the country than oil.

MSC believes about 170,000 passengers will sail on the two ships once the programme begins later this year.

MSC Magnifica (pictured) will homeport in Jeddah and offer seven-day Red Sea cruises between November 2021 and March 2022.

The vessel will visit three Saudi ports – including AlWajh, where passengers can visit the Unesco world heritage site AlUla in the Medina region.

Virtuosa will be based in Dubai from December 2021 to March 2022, and sailings will include calls at Abu Dhabi and Sir Bani Yas both in the United Arab Emirates; Doha in Qatar and Dammam in Saudi Arabia.

More: MSC Cruises to base at least 10 ships in Europe

Fawaz Farooqui, managing director of Cruise Saudi, said: “We look forward to exploring opportunities to increase the number and size of vessels operating on Saudi routes in the future.

“Saudi Arabia has a lot to offer visitors, and the new collaboration will open doors for intrepid travellers from across the globe to be amongst the first to experience the rich Saudi heritage and warm, hospitality.

“Meanwhile, through welcoming international tourists to these emerging destinations, it will create new sources of income for local communities.”

Pierfrancesco Vago, MSC’s executive chairman, said: “I am impressed with Saudi Arabia’s ability to preserve its traditions and culture and make them available for the world to see.

“I am delighted that MSC Cruises will be in a position to contribute to the Kingdom’s opening to international visitors through becoming a premier cruise destination.”