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Cruise Tourism, an Emerging Superpower in India
October 25, 2017
Cruise Tourism, an Emerging Superpower in India


25 October, 2017

In India, international cruising as a holiday concept began in the early 1990s, when TIRUN Travel Marketing (then Discover the World Marketing) started representing Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. in the country in 1993. A year later, Star Cruises set its eyes on India, and started marketing their ships through the PSA (Preferred Sales Agent) network. However, realising the potential that India offers for cruise tourism, Star Cruises set up its first office in India in 1999 in Mumbai. Star Cruises is a contemporary brand of Genting Cruise Lines.

In 2006, Star Cruises homeported SuperStar Libra in Mumbai for the October 2006 to March 2007 season. The ship sailed from Mumbai to Lakshadweep and Mumbai to Goa with fourand three-night itineraries, respectively. Also, the ship offered one-night cruising on the high seas during weekends from Mumbai. In the first season of 2006-2007, nearly 40,000 passengers cruised on these sailings, while the number doubled to approximately 81,000 passengers during the second season of 2007-2008. However, it is believed that unfavourable government policies forced Star Cruises to withdraw the ship from the Indian waters in 2008.

Despite this, during a short span of time, Star Cruises was able to provide a fair idea to Indian travellers (especially in the gateway city of Mumbai, the state of Maharashtra and metro cities) about what a cruise travel entails. This led Star Cruises to attract more Indians to undertake cruise travel from countries like Singapore, Malaysia, China, etc. In this process, Star Cruises managed to create a strong brand image, and at the same time provided a clear picture about cruising to the tourists through a first-hand experience in India.

The contribution of Star has been unprecedented in the cruise segment and because of its continuous engagement in the market, Indians started looking at the possibility of opting for cruising as a holiday option.

Focus on India

The importance of India as a source market for cruise liners can be gauged from the fact that Genting Cruise Lines’ new luxury brand, Dream Cruises had Mumbai as a port of call during the maiden voyage of Genting Dream in November 2016. The ship (Genting Dream) has been wellreceived by Indian travellers, especially repeat cruisers who have another ship from the Genting portfolio to choose from.

Moreover, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings set up its India office in Mumbai in 2016 to tap the burgeoning Indian cruise market. Norwegian Star, one of the flagship vessels of Norwegian Cruise Line made ports of call on the Indian shores in March 2017 as part the brand’s voyages in Asia, Australia and New Zealand. On April 24, 2017, Seven Seas Voyager, the most luxurious ship of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings made a port of call in Mumbai.

Another entrant in the fray, Italian cruise liner Costa Cruises set its eyes n India and started operating a round trip cruise from Mumbai to Maldives via Sri Lanka from December 2016 to March 2017, which has received an overwhelming response, especially from honeymooners, considering its sailing months were the peak wedding season in India. For many travellers, a cruise holiday often starts after a flight trip. But now, with the introduction of Costa neoClassica, Indians have the opportunity to start their cruise journey from their doorstep in Mumbai, India’s largest metropolis. The ship has 654 cabins (with a capacity of 1,700 passengers), including sea view cabins and suites with private balconies.

With encouraging response from India, Costa Cruises will start 3 and 4 nights sailing on Costa neoClassica from November this year. With this development, Indian travellers can now choose to cruise on 4-night itinerary from Mumbai to Kochi (via Mangalore) or 3-night itinerary from Kochi to Maldives. “People in this country were hungry for such a travel product. I am sure that travellers from smaller cities will also opt for this sailing. It is no more a dream but reality for them,” says Nalini Gupta, MD, Lotus Destinations (GSA of Costa Cruises in India). This is in addition to the 7 nights sailing from Mumbai-Maldives which Costa introduced last year.

According to Naresh Rawal, VP – Sales, Genting Cruise Lines, “We have been witnessing an increase in number of Indian guests on Star Cruises from Tier-II and III cities along with B towns, longer itineraries to exotic destinations and choosing higher category cabins are the tending favourites for cruise travellers. The excitement continues as Star Cruises two new builds lined for 2020 and 2021.

After a successful deployment of Dream Cruises first vessel Genting Dream Ex Mumbai on October 29, 2016, we are gearing up to launch their second vessel World Dream (launching late 2017) which shall be home ported in Asia and would be delivering the highest level of guest service and spacious comfort in the region. In this year both the new mega ships focus will be to cater to the highend guests each servicing with a 2,000-crew for fewer than 3,400 passengers and the 46% space ratio with showcasing luxury experience and real Asian heart-felt services.”

As per the Cruise Industry Outlook 2017 by Cruise Lines International Association released in December 2016, from 2017 to 2026, 97 new ocean ships are on order, which will add new capacity of 230,788. This is a combined total investment of more than USD 6.8 billion. “In the last few years, cruising has generated unprecedented interest among Indian travellers. Therefore, we are witnessing a good season this year and will aggressively look at showcasing our products. Outbound cruise tourism has emerged as the fastest growing holiday segment in the past five years and this is a result of the growing disposable income, youth travel and aggressive marketing and sales activities across India by cruise liners. Indians are looking for newer experiences and a cruise holiday is a perfect combination of a land, ocean and air travel which is enticing. The sheer number of ships on order for ocean and river cruises shows the tremendous pace at which the segment is growing globally as well as in India,” says Manoj Singh, Country Head – India, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings.

Cruise Tourism in India has had its ups and downs in all these years, but if looked at different segments, one can find that only the outbound tourism has done well on a sustainable basis. A substantial growth in outbound tourism has been seen in last 10 years, says Nishith Saxena, Founder & Director, Cruise Professionals. “With the deployment of new technologies and the construction of new ships, the cruise industry has been able to meet the expectations of the travellers so far, resulting in this stable growth and strong economic impact around the world. And with the government finally focusing on cruise industry as a serious business, and the private port operators planning to make the necessary arrangements to be done to cater the passengers, the future of cruise tourism seems bright,” he adds.

India’s Cruise Tourism Potential

As per the Bureau of Immigration, Government of India, 20.38 million Indians travelled abroad in 2015, which is an annual growth of 11.1%. However, the number of cruise passengers from India during 2015 is just about 120,000- 125,000, which does not even amount to 1% of the total outbound. This means cruise tourism in India is virtually an untapped segment and has the potential to grow many folds, year-on-year. According to Kishan Biyani, MD, Ark Travels, “Larger ships and varied itineraries is what the Indian customer is looking for and that is what is being offered in 2017 in the South Asian region. MICE is already showing a growth of 10% for the year. The traveller trends for Diwali are also looking positive.”

Indian travellers have arrived at a point where they distinguish between cruise as an attraction and cruising as a complete vacation, believes says Dipti Adhia, Director, Discover the World - India. “There are now many more players in the fray, but the ones to succeed, will be those who can offer the product and service which is out of the box. India has just began its journey as an emerging market for International cruising,” she adds.

Time for Domestic Cruising

Since the cruise segment in India is still at a very nascent stage, the opportunity lies in developing the domestic ocean cruising market. A significant number of travellers in India are still unaware of how a cruise holiday can be a great option of exploring new destinations as well as indulging in onboard facilities on a single trip. It is advisable to launch a contemporary ship sailing in the domestic waters. This would allow passengers from India get a first-hand experience on their home turf since the product would be effectively cheaper than its international counterparts. As a majority of the population in India is still not familiar about cruising, it is difficult to develop and sustain a product that is targeted at only a niche premium segment. At this juncture, it is imperative that a ship sailing in Indian waters is launched, which would be a novelty. It should be targeted at a larger audience to not only popularise the segment and product at large, but also elevate India’s tourism offering.
Moreover, a domestic cruise ship docking and making ports of call in the country would also draw the interest of and promotional investment from the state tourism boards in showcasing the best of what their coast can offer in terms of sightseeing and accommodations, besides local culture and cuisine. Hence, a mass product is preferable at this stage.

However, there also exists a case for the launch of two distinct products for the Indian market, which may be distinguished as a mass product and a class product. Additionally, to make cruise tourism a vibrant segment, the foremost step is education of the travel agents and tour operators, since bookings in India are largely driven through them. Another crucial area that needs to be accorded adequate focus is the emerging Tier-II and III cities, which are the hidden gems because those are the markets where the majority of bookings will be generated from in the future. Since Indians are price conscious, while devising a cruise package, the cost-aspect should be given a detailed consideration.