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Saturday, 04 April, 2015, 13 : 07 PM [IST]

Outbound cruise vacations for India on a growth trajectory

According to a study by the Union Ministry of Tourism (MoT), it is estimated that by 2030-31, India will have 1.2 million cruise tourists. Outbound cruising from India, which is increasing by 30-35% annually, is gaining momentum with a mix of Indian cuisine, halts at prime destinations, and a range of entertainment options offered by cruise lines. Akansha Pandey tracks the potential and growth of Cruise Tourism in India
The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) had projected that India’s travel and tourism industry will grow much beyond expectation in South East Asia and the world aggregate level. And the same stands true today. With a number of fun activities, entertainment options, and exceptional holiday vacation value, it is not surprising that the popularity of cruise holidays in India is constantly increasing.

According to travel agents, over the years queries for cruise vacations from India have seen a rise from 5 per cent to 30 per cent. The Indian customer’s mindset is more evolved today and he is aware of the options available before booking a cruise holiday with a travel agent. Looking beyond Hong Kong and Singapore, travellers have shifted their focus to Bahamas, Caribbean, Alaska, Europe (including Scandinavia and Mediterranean), Greece, USA, Mexico and Dubai on a three-toseven- night cruise journey.

International cruise lines have realised the potential of the Indian market and have started offering several Indian cuisines such as Jain and Gujarati food onboard. This has undoubtedly increased the customer satisfaction level to over 95 per cent.

Oasis of the SeaIndustry View
 Cruise Tourism is witnessing double digit growth the world over and this also includes River Tourism, which is a niche segment, said Karan Anand, Head- Relationships, Cox & Kings Ltd. “Today cruise liners are wooing younger travellers with a number of activities such as casinos, top notch food outlets, indoor golf, better entertainment and more relaxed approach to cruising,” he added. The number of Indians who cruise every year is still about a lakh as compared to the size of the outbound market, which is over 14 million per year. This indicates that there is a huge potential and it is up to the cruise liners to customise their products to suit Indian tastes. The Indian traveller views cruising as an extension of a land holiday and do not specifically opt for a cruise-only vacation. “They prefer three- to four-night itineraries. However, there is a segment that is now opting for longer vacations and also preferring river cruises,” he stated.

The Indian cruise market is growing at approximately 30 per cent year-on-year and the total potential of the cruise market from India is close to 1.25 lakh per year. Neelu Singh, COO, Ezeego1.com, highlighted the need to create awareness about cruise vacations, considering it has huge growth potential. “We have noticed that the trend amongst the Indian customers is to include a few days of cruising as part of a larger holiday. Several cruise companies such as Costa Cruises and Star Cruises have introduced elements of Bollywood and Indian cuisine which signify that India is an important market for Cruise Tourism,” she stated.

Thomas Cook India is witnessing an impressive growth rate of over 35 per cent for cruise bookings. Interestingly, the destination spread covers the volume-based Far East destinations, luxurious Scandinavian and Mediterranean cruises to Alaska, Caribbean, and also the exciting icebreaker Antarctic cruises. Shibani Phadkar, Senior Vice President-Products & Operations, Leisure Travel (Outbound), Thomas Cook (India) Ltd., said, “Cruises offer great allure and we add value to our itineraries with ‘all-inclusive’ cruise packages. We have seen significant uptake in demand for cruises from India’s young travellers, between the age group of 18 and 35 years. The introduction of newer and larger cruise ships with top notch entertainment facilities also ensures that the cruise segment will continue to see significant growth.”

Phadkar feels that factors such as social media, word of mouth, more affordable packages, ease of access and most importantly the ‘brag factor’ have been instrumental in driving the segment into one of the largest growing industries.

Super Star GemeniVinita Warrier, Team Leader, Free Independent Traveller (FIT) International, Akbar Holidays, revealed that the representation of outbound cruise companies in India has increased significantly. “Offering an average of ten per cent commission to travel agents booking cruise trips, the cruise representation brands in India are also leaving no stone unturned to train and educate the front line staff. Apart from showing cruising videos, availing brochures and organising training workshops, they are taking agents on a familiarisation trip from time to time,” Warrier shared.

MICE Activities & Weddings Onboard
The MICE segment in India is opting for cruise holidays considering Costa Cruises, RCL, and Virgo are now cruising from Asian shores. “Companies often opt for shorter sailing trips of two to three nights to incentivise employees. Wedding is another segment that has tremendous potential, especially amongst HNI clients. We also see a lot of young crowd turning towards cruising as a preferred holiday with a two night/three day package within Asian countries,” said Singh.

MICE and wedding planners also prefer cruise travel as the packages are all inclusive and can be tailor-made as per the travellers’ requirements, commented Anand.

Today, the MICE market is becoming increasingly sophisticated with discerning palates and evolving preferences and interests, stated Phadkar. “Cruises with their range of price points offer value across a variety of MICE tiers from budget to super deluxe. Gala events and team bonding activities can be personalised with help from the Event Manager aboard a cruise ship and this is a big plus point.”

CruiseCruise Representation in India
Throwing light on the response from the India market in 2014, Nishith Saxena, Founder & Director, Cruise Professionals (representing Cunard, Princess Cruises, P&O Cruises - Australia and P&O Cruises - United Kingdom) elaborated that they are highly satisfied and the business in 2014 was good. “In terms of the overwhelming support Princess Cruises has received from the travel agents as well as the passengers, 2014 was no different,” Saxena stated. Their marketing campaign ‘Balcony Bonanza’, ‘Cruise Becho Duniya Dekho’ and ‘Monsoon Mania’ created excitement among the target audience and in turn resulted in good sales. On service delivery front, their passengers were offered enhanced choice of itineraries, Indian meals served onboard and a collection of entertainment services.

From India, the most popular routes for Cruise Professionals are South Asian cruises because of their close proximity, Alaska and Norwegian Fjords for their natural beauty, British Isles and Mediterranean for their cultural and architectural offerings, Bahamas, Caribbean and Mexico for their beaches and fun activities, and Japan, Russia and South American belt for their uniqueness, Saxena revealed.

"Cruise Tourism has been termed as one of the most potential and sustainable segments once we reach an assumed status with regard to the passenger numbers and ship deployments," said Saxena. But till date, there are only a handful of people who have actively pursued this line of business and a large percentage of travel agencies still remain aloof from the benefits of this business. Outbound cruising was introduced in India nearly 20 years ago, and till date, less than ten per cent of travel agents sell cruises on a year round basis in India. “In the current scenario, you will find travel agencies fighting for an extremely small percentage of the airline commission, but they will not promote cruising, which could give them ten per cent commission or even more,” Saxena lamented.

During January to September 2014, Royal Caribbean Cruises witnessed 15 per cent growth in bookings in the Indian market. The cruise line witnessed tremendous growth from Asia last year by welcoming year-round deployment from Singapore and a six-month deployment from Hong Kong. Further, in 2014 Royal Caribbean Cruises had reduced deployment in the Mediterranean and welcomed Allure of the Seas, the largest cruise ship in the world sailing from Barcelona.

Oasis of the SeaCommunicating with a diverse land such as India has always been an interesting exercise, exclaimed Ratna Chadha, CEO, TIRUN Travel Marketing, India Representative of Royal Caribbean International, said that the travel trade needs to look beyond air tickets and hotels. In fact, the cruise product is the easiest to sell off-the shelf, given it is inclusive and managed by a single entity that ensures greater standards of delivery. “On our part we have successfully marketed the concept of cruise vacations via various mediums including direct marketing, print and electronic advertising, social media, trade programmes, etc. We believe in innovation through newer mediums and technologies, as well as interesting campaigns to reach out to consumers,” added Chadha.

Chadha said that India holds great potential for Cruise Tourism. Indians are increasingly open to trying newer itineraries for destinations such as Alaska, Scandinavia, South America. Popular destinations amongst Indians are Europe, especially the Mediterranean, Alaska and Bahamas, Chadha elaborated.

Cruises from Singapore and Malaysia have been an absolute delight amongst the guests of Star Cruises, but slowly the brand is witnessing a rise in travellers opting for newer sailings from Kota Kinabalu and Hong Kong. The response from the Indian market has always been overwhelming and very encouraging ever since we have started promoting cruising as a holiday option, claimed Naresh Rawal, Vice President-Sales, Star Cruises, India.

Currently promoting Bollywood Cruise Night on SuperStar Gemini, Rawal feels that cruising in India is gaining popularity. Outbound Cruise Tourism from India has been growing at a steady pace year on year. The Indian traveller has now evolved from a two-night itinerary and is now choosing three-, five- and seven-night itineraries. “Besides, while travellers were earlier choosing inside staterooms, now we are witnessing a higher demand for balcony cabins. Demand for shore excursion packages, honeymoon packages and birthday packages are also on the rise,” Rawal stated.

Sumit Banerji, Founder & Country Man, India and South Asia, Cruise Masters (General Sales Agent, Regent Seven Seas Cruises) shared that they had witnessed an impressive business growth in 2014, considering the fact that the brand introduced Regent Seven Seas Cruises in the market just three years ago. Their luxury cruise vacation has been well-accepted by high networth travellers from India, who are considering celebrating their special occasion either as a couple or with their family members and friends. In fact, inquiries on family get-togethers too have seen an upswing, primarily due to their ‘all-inclusive allsuite accommodation’ product positioning.

Oasis of the SeaVoyage itineraries covering Europe (Mediterranean and Northern Europe) and Alaska lead the demand chart. “Clients appreciate our itinerary plans that offer overnight stops at port-of-calls and at disembarking cities. This provides them with the choice of exploring the destinations’ evening entertainments, sightseeing, and nightlife. As guests can experience unlimited shore excursions at any port-of-call and that too being all-inclusive in our cruise fare, adds on to the appeal for such vacation. Many of our itineraries are not repeated in an annual calendar, thus offering multiple unique voyage options to choose from,” exclaimed Banerji.

The response received from key markets, including Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru, and Hyderabad for SeaDream is growing slowly, but consistently, agreed Sudesh Kishore, President, SeaDream Yacht Club, India and Corporate Chef, SeaDream Yacht Club. During SeaDream's maiden visit to Asia in 2013 via Mumbai, select travel trade from Goa and Kochi and high-profile clients were invited to hop onboard and experience the luxury first hand. The brand is encouraged by their feedback on the cuisine and the services, besides developing strategic alliances with corporate clientele. Kishore added, “These alliances have been formed on the basis of commonalities of the target audience and brand values. As part of our strategic plan, we will continue to focus on this avenue and are confident on building on this platform that we have already created.”

India has shown an acceptance to cruise vacations. Though the cruising industry in India is at a nascent stage, it is growing steadily. The annual year-on-year growth is at an average of 15 to 18 per cent per annum with almost 70,000 individuals taking a cruise vacation annually, Kishore informed. Indians prefer Mediterranean voyages during summer, given the suitable climatic conditions and exotic destinations covered through the itineraries of SeaDream.

“Currently our marketing effort is focused on strategic media relations and co-branding opportunities with right partners. Given the product positioning, our efforts also include educating the travel trade and high-net worth clients about the difference between yachting and cruising,” Kishore added
 
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Sanjiv Jhaveri 2015-04-07 16:10:59
Pls provide me info on cruises from Hong Kong
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