The launch of the world’s longest river cruise in India is just the right push the tourism industry needed to set the 2023 ball rolling. While the hype created by this will soon fade away, the message is loud and clear that India is ready to create a larger footprint on the global cruise tourism map by offering a world-class experience, writes Disha Shah Ghosh.
A lot has been said till now about exploring India’s long coastline for last mile connectivity. Using the varied water bodies for alternate means of transportation as well as discovering the many facets of Incredible India on water have been a long cherished dream of the tourism industry. However, despite the best ideas, the very intent was missing and infrastructure development at hinterland jetties and ports continued to be dismal.
What set the ball rolling for cruise tourism in general was the interest shown by various international cruise liners with selective port of calls in the past couple of years at sea ports of Mumbai, Goa and Vizag; and the value seen by the various successive governments after multiple calls from the industry stakeholders. With Indians flocking to Singapore and Malaysia in large numbers to undertake a cruise holiday, only added to the interest of cruise companies to allocate dedicated marketing dollars for India.
River Cruising in India
Although inland river tourism on a small scale has been operational in the rivers of Ganga and Brahmaputra for some time now; the launch a major vessel like the MV Ganga Vilas with multi-country itinerary was required to create the much needed hype. A lot depends on the success of this experiment to attract private investors, port developers, and cruise liners alike to make this niche industry a mainstream one. What was largely missing till now was government support in terms of investment, infrastructure development, single-window clearance and lack of uniformity in state laws.
Throwing light on the government’s stance, Vinod Zutshi, IAS (Retd), former Secretary Tourism, Government of India, said, “The initiative of developing better infrastructure for cruise had been taken as early as 2014, when the Union government decided that Ministries of Shipping and Tourism would jointly identify the routes for carrying out cruise tours on waterways, and also the measures to develop necessary infrastructure, including all weather navigable channels with proper berthing facilities.
In that context, you may recall that on the day when MV Ganga Vilas was flagged off, community jetties in Uttar Pradesh were also inaugurated, and foundation stone for community jetties in Bihar was laid. Thus, it goes without saying that the launch of MV Ganga Vilas will pave the way for speedier development of inland river ports, jetties and cruise terminals.”
Talking about developing a home grown cruise brand, Jurgen Bailom, CEO, Waterways Leisure Pvt Ltd., said, “It is welcoming for us to now see the river cruise come to life. We wish them all the best and hope that this is just the beginning and the tip of the iceberg of opportunities that cruise tourism brings with it for the nation as a whole.”
Ganga Vilas is the first cruise service of its kind, having received support from the Ministry of Ports, Shipping, and Waterways and Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI).
Naresh Rawal, VP – Sales & Marketing, Resorts Word Cruises (India) believes that these are exciting times for the cruise sector in general for India as the river cruise will be an unprecedented experience of its kind globally. As our Prime Minister Narendra Modi had stated “it will be a reflection of the growing cruise tourism (industry) in India” and that is a positive sign of the future of the cruise sector. “With the local and global spotlight on the river cruise, it will create more positive awareness on cruises and will have a spill-over effect on the potential growth of oceanic cruises, be it on a domestic level or for the fly-cruise segment,” he said.
The existing river cruises offer travel to native landscapes of India albeit in smaller vessels. However, Zutshi says that the launch of Ganga Vilas is significant, as it is not only the longest river cruise in India, but is also the world’s largest. “The cruise ship covers 3,200 kms across 5 states, and 2 countries takes the visitors on 5 days journey to more than 50 major tourist sites, crossing 27 rivers, a package which no other river cruise in India is offering today. Ganga Vilas, having 18 luxury suites and equipped with modern facilities is a river cruise matching international standards, and therefore would attract international visitors, in addition to the domestic tourists.”
What gains significance about the government backing river cruising is the very timing of the launch. At a time when borders have reopened globally, and the government is set to close down foreign tourism offices, a direct promotion of India’s capability in offering a world-class river cruise sends a message loud and clear.
“The announcement of the river cruises in India is timely in re-igniting the travel trade due to the global pandemic. As travel restrictions are gradually relaxed across the region, this new one-of-a-kind attraction will definitely be a source of growth for inbound tourism, which is important in boosting the overall cruise sector for India and globally. Also most importantly, the launch of this unique river cruise will create the necessary hype in boosting the tourism industry, especially for the overall cruise sector,” said Rawal.
Any development is a way forward. It brings with it hope and a host of opportunities. “We are confident that this new ray will further light up the rainbow of tourism in India and eventually contribute in a wholesome manner to the overall development of the nation’s economy,” Bailom stated.
While India has a long, impressive coastline of 7,500 kms will a large number of rivers, the benefits of river cruising will spill over to ocean cruising as well. The support from the government this time around is also a refreshing change. Financial assistance for construction of double hull boats, construction of world-class cruise terminals and large-scale investment in port development are steps in the right direction. “The new draft National Tourism Policy document, having cruise tourism-friendly policies, the efforts of the Task Force set up or cruise tourism, and the government’s plan to open as many as 111 waterways in the country augurs well for rapid development of cruise tourism in India,” said Zutshi.
For making the cruise experience a seamless one, government initiatives like issuance of e-visa at land and sea ports, training of tourist guides and SOPs for domestic and international cruise passengers, are just the steps in the right direction.