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Monday, 08 February, 2016, 11 : 00 AM [IST]

Cruising into oblivion...

Sheldon SantwanA couple of days ago, I was at the launch function of yet another luxury cruise company to set its sights on India. Monarch Cruises—the newest cruise product to enter the Indian market—was launched by one of India’s biggest idols Sachin Tendulkar, and has set its sights on targeting the high-end and luxury cruise segment of the burgeoning Indian outbound market.

Parallelly, news is out that Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) has set up its own office in Mumbai. This accounts for most of the large cruise companies worldwide that are firmly targeting a piece of the Indian pie. Cruise liners such as Star Cruises, Crystal Cruises, Royal Caribbean, MSC Cruises, Costa Cruises, Princess Cruises and a large number of other big and small players have already been consistent in this market for many years now. The leading player in the pack, Star Cruises, who’s holding company has recently launched its newest brand called Dream Cruises will co-incidentally commence its maiden voyage from Mumbai much later this year. The reason for all of the major players in the cruise industry being present in the Indian scenario right now is quite simple. India has seen a consistent growth for the last decade or so in the outbound cruise segment-Something that has not been lost on all of these global giants, but,alas, has gone completely unnoticed by the policy makers in the Indian tourism industry.

This segment is now forecasted to grow at 20-30% year-on-year in the short term. Instead of cashing in on what this segment has to offer in terms of tourism revenue and the impending boom, the policy makers in the Indian government have consistently turned a blind eye to its potential and have ensured that the existing policy framework has deterred even the most die-hard and enthusiastic cruise companies from entering the Indian market. There was a time, in the not so distant past, when a couple of international cruise liners regularly docked at our ports, but were forced to pull out not because of lack of potential, but because of our so called ‘cruise policy’ and deplorable infrastructure or complete lack of it, even at major ports such as Mumbai, Chennai, Cochin, Visakhapatnam, etc.

Cruise tourism could be one of the easiest segments to develop for the inbound market in India, given the fact that there is high interest, a large number of ports, and a captive market. Furthermore, for places like the Andaman & Nicobar, and Lakshwadeep Islands which can only be accessed via the ocean routes, cruising could be a tourism game-changer. All it needs is a little vision and some initiatives from the various ministries concerned to put cruising firmly on the Indian Tourism map. For proof of concept, one can look at China, which was introduced to cruise tourism at roughly the same time as India was. With proper government support and top-of-the-line infrastructure, most of the large global cruise liners are not only docking regularly at all the Chinese ports, but some have even made China their home port. This, in turn, has done wonders for the tourism economy and related infrastructure development in those Chinese cities. One can only imagine what proper cruise infrastructure and slightly more forward looking policies could do for inbound tourism to this country at a time when the Indian government seems to be interested and is making all the right noises with initiatives such as e-tourist visa, etc. I guess the time to cruising has come, it is a wake up call that can not and should not be ignored... 

Sheldon Santwan
Editor & COO
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