Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), based in USA, has projected an estimated growth from 24.7 million passengers in 2016 to 27.2 million passengers to set sail in 2018. From experiential tours like cultural and adventurous itineraries, practising sustainable cruise tourism, river cruises for young millennials, to wellness retreats onboard — CLIA forecasts these and more trends in America, Canada, Ireland and Britain cruise vacations this year.
With the world only contributing to the rise of cruise holidays, where does India stand? “The cruise market is growing at a healthy pace of 20% year-on-year for Cox Kings, and we expect the demand to grow as more Indians experience cruise vacations,” says Karan Anand, head, relationships, Cox Kings. He adds, “Close to 40% pre-decide that they want to go on a cruise holiday when they visit our offices.”
An official spokesperson of MakeMyTrip concurs with Anand. “Cruises help travellers explore multiple destinations without having to check-in and out of the hotels or agonising over packing and booking multiple tickets. Over the last few years, the demand for cruise liners has risen significantly, and we have witnessed a spurt of over 30% cruise bookings on our platform as compared to last year.”
India enjoys an expansive coastline of 7,500 kilometres. It is only natural that a significant segment of travellers, with a large chunk of disposable income, opt for relaxing and luxurious holidays on a ship.
Earlier this year, Sanjay Bhatia, chairman of the Mumbai Port Trust, announced that a “roadmap” to develop cruise tourism is being devised. The focus is on building infrastructure that allows travellers to seamlessly embark and disembark, go through immigration and customs, while having access to facilities like restrooms, shopping and restaurants.
Apart from sailing within India, like the three-night Sundarbans exploration with Vivada Cruises or Costa Cruises’s four-night sailing package from Mumbai to Cochin via Mangaluru; Singapore and Hong Kong are most preferred international destinations. Says Anand, “Indians typically opt for a three-night cruise either from Singapore or Hong Kong. When they travel to the Mediterranean, the cruise holidays are between seven to eight days. The popular ports are Barcelona and Venice.”
Nalini Gupta, MD, Lotus Destinations, representing Costa Cruises in India, says, “Most Indians typically prefer cruises which are short, close to home, have good flight connectivity and easy visa formalities. Keeping this in mind, we have had many first-time cruisers experience their first sailing on our Mumbai to Maldives and Cochin to Maldives itineraries from December to March. However, in the recent past, seven-night sailing packages in the Mediterranean region have become very popular. In fact, we were the first cruise liners to have an Indian wedding on our Europe sailing, with over 2,000 guests travelling to Europe to embark Costa Fascinosa.”
Within India, many travellers are seen exploring luxury river cruises on River Ganga. Ganges Voyager, a part of an exotic-heritage group based in Delhi, have several itineraries including one on the journey of the river from Kolkata to Varanasi. Their en-route day excursions include Kolkata, Murshidabad, Bodhgaya, and of course, Varanasi explorations.
It is also interesting to note that even though India’s cruise tourism is seeing a gradual growth, freestyle cruisers are on the rise. “This concept took root in Asia and this means that you just relax on board and you don’t have to be formally attired,” s Anand.
A majority of cruisers travel with families and are from affluent backgrounds. There are also corporate companies who opt for meetings, conferences or incentive programmes onboard. Gupta has noticed that “wedding groups have also become popular in the last two years.”
To add to the comfort of passengers, most cruise lines have vegetarian meals. “We also, many times, get concerns on whether Indian meals will be served onboard, which is available on all our ships across the globe. In fact, we even serve Jain meals,” notes Gupta.
About 30% of cruise vacationers with Cox Kings are first-time cruisers. However, these figures are only going to escalate further. Anand suggests that first-time cruisers should book early to avail attractive discounts and purchase shore excursions in advance, lest they are booked out.
“Many first-time cruisers think that a ship might be claustrophobic and they will get seasick. Most ships are like floating cities.” Gupta also adds that a newsletter is dispatched every day, which comes handy for those who like to be informed about hospitality, activities and entertainment options onboard.
So, when are you going on a cruise?