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Monday, 06 October, 2008, 10 : 00 AM [IST]

Star Cruises – ‘Sailing Strong’

Star Cruises, which forayed in the Indian market more than a decade ago has sailed a long way in introducing and popularising cruising among Indian travellers. From marketing the cruise segment through the PSA route to creating brand awareness and eventually deploying a ship in Indian waters, Krupa Vora covers the various initiatives of the company
Star Cruises started operations in the Indian market in 1997 by adopting the Preferred Sales Agent (PSA) route, working closely with a few agents. It started its own office in Mumbai close to a decade ago in December 1998 with priorities to set up operations and create an opportunity to sell an absolutely new product - cruises - in the Indian market. One year later, Star Cruises opened an office in New Delhi followed by representation offices in Kolkata and Bangalore and later in Ahmedabad (2004). When the company started operations with its own office, the first and foremost thing was to educate the trade about the untapped cruise segment. With adequate number of marketing visits and workshops for the travel trade, the first year witnessed excellent numbers.

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Taking the PSA route
After conducting market research and feasibility studies on the market structure, Star Cruises decided to take the PSA route. The decision to take the PSA route paid off for the company, as the agents were able to market the product and provided visible results in the number of Indians opting for a cruise holiday. “The PSA route proved to be very beneficial as agents could market the product very well to the end consumers,” said Vijay Puthran, Senior Manager Sales, India, Star Cruises. He further added, “The PSA not only marketed the packages of Star Cruises but also could book online as they were directly connected to the international office in Malaysia and Singapore. At that point in time and even today, only group bookings are conducted through the Star Cruise offices in Mumbai and New Delhi. Individual bookings are done through the PSA.” In 1998, Star Cruises had about eight PSA in their network, which in about three years (2001) increased to 16 agents. Currently, the network comprises of 18 agents across India.

0119_ms_2.jpgCreating brand awareness  
Considering the fact that the cruising experience was fast picking up in the Indian market, Star Cruises also considered the requirements of the Indian consumers and introduced Indian cuisine, movies, music and also Indian staff onboard its cruise liners. “India is among the top cruise markets in the world and therefore it is very important to cater to the specific requirements of Indian travellers. Star Cruises was the first one to introduce freestyle cruising, wherein tourists can move freely on the ship and are not required to make any bookings or reservations for meals, entertainment, shows etc., a practice followed by traditional cruise operators,” said Puthran.

Another important aspect of marketing Star Cruises product was organising FAM trips for travel trade and media and also creating presence in the market through print and electronic media. Star Cruises regularly conducts road shows, product updates and organises agent meetings in the Tier-II markets in India. Apart from conducting FAM trips, Star Cruises also started targeting and promoting its offerings to different market segments like MICE, weddings, and recently religious groups. It also conducted regular road shows to create brand awareness and promote the cruise products along with below the line activities like hoardings and branding activities at shopping malls.

0119_ms_3.jpgDeploying SuperStar Libra in Indian waters
Looking at the growth chart from 1998 to 2005, cruising was a novelty experience that was fast capturing the imagination of Indian travellers and an increasing number of Indians were opening up to the concept of cruising as a holiday option. Seeing an opportunity Star Cruises deployed SuperStar Libra in Indian waters in 2005. SuperStar Libra in the first season (October 2005 to April 2006) offered cruise holidays starting from Mumbai covering Goa and Lakshadweep for a period of four nights, five days. The base cabin fare was Rs 3,600 per person, per night for four night/five day package. It also offered a two day package to Goa and a one night package titled `High Sailing Cruise to Nowhere,’ off Mumbai. This cruise was priced at Rs 4,000.

For the second season, the itinerary offered two night, three day package (Mumbai-Lakshadweep-Mumbai), two day package to Goa and one night package `High Sailing Cruise to Nowhere’ twice a week. “The biggest advantage of deploying a ship in the Indian waters was the fact that the travelers did not require a visa and passport to board the ship. All that was required of Indian citizens was some identification,” stated Puthran. The second season of Star Cruises witnessed 43 per cent growth from the corporate traveler segment. The suspension of operations in Indian waters of SuperStar Libra in 2007 was a tough decision as it reduced the passenger numbers for the company. “Interestingly, even though SuperStar Libra is no longer sailing in Indian waters, the demand for SuperStar Libra is still there and some travellers are happily flying to Singapore and Hong Kong to cruise on other ships on Star Cruises,” maintained Puthran.
 
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