Thanks to the initiatives taken by the Indian government, the country’s cruise lines are looking to 2019 to chalk out a promising growth narrative. According to a recent report by Cruise Lines International Association, about 30 million travelers are expected to cruise in 2019. The report also forecasts that the cruise industry continues to make a positive impact on communities across the world by sustaining 1,108,676 jobs equaling $45.6 billion in wages and salaries and $134 billion total output worldwide.
For the Indian cruise operators, 2018 has been eventful with regard to both inbound and outbound. Thanks to ease of visa issuance and short haul flights, India has been one of the largest source markets for countries like Singapore. Many cruise travelers are beginning to combine cruises into their land vacations from Europe, Antarctica, Alaska, and the Caribbean.
Kunal Sampat, General Manager-India, MSC Cruises, reiterates that India is an emerging market for cruise holidays. “The most important things we have been keeping in mind are empowering our trade partners with the correct tools and education along with brand awareness for consumers. Looking at the support we have received from the trade over last few years, we are confident that MSC will be able to make strong footprints in India.”
Like any other segment, it’s all about the experience. While the Indian travelers are opening up to the idea of cruise holidays, they are also looking for experiential destinations.
“At MSC, we launched MSC Seaview, the sistership of MSC Seaside, which was launched in 2017. Bookings on the same were welcomed by the Indian market very optimistically. We also had MSC Lirica, which touched Indian ports of Mangalore, Goa and Mumbai ,where we showcased the same to our esteemed trade partners and are now looking forward to a more aggressive 2019.”
Last year, MSC launched two new ships: MSC Bellissima and MSC Grandiosa, and Sampat is confident that 2019 is going to be an exciting year for the cruise industry. “We are looking forward to an increase in MICE movements along with individual leisure travelers.”
According to Nalini Uday Gupta, Managing Director, Lotus Destinations (GSA Costa Cruise India), the real growth and opportunity of cruise tourism in India is in home-porting. “More international cruise companies need to come to India with their ships around the year. The Indian cruise sector according to a recent report, estimated that growth of Indian cruise passengers will exceed that of China, once home-porting becomes more popular,” says Gupta.
The number of Indians cruising from India has been growing at an aggressive pace, she says. “However, even with the growing numbers, the market size of Indian cruisers is estimated at around only 180,000, which is a small drop in the large ocean of outbound Indian travelers and global cruise numbers. As more ships homeport in India or introduce itineraries closer to home, the number of Indian cruisers is estimated to grow by leaps and bounds not only for India itineraries and other itineraries close to home but also for Mediterranean, Alaska and even more exotic routes like Antarctica,” explains Gupta.
Ever since Costa Cruise launched the sailings between Mumbai and Maldives in December 2016, the company has seen the passenger numbers grow year on year by 50%. “We have been the only cruise liner to bring in a ship to homeport in Mumbai for the third season in December 2018,” she says.
According to Gupta, the India itineraries have also had a positive ripple effect on the cruising itineraries from other parts of the globe. “We have a good increase in MICE and FIT numbers for the Mediterranean region. In 2018, we also launched some new one-way itineraries from Bangkok to Singapore during Diwali, Dubai to Abu Dhabi during the Dubai Shopping Festival, which saw good numbers as we observed the Indian consumers and travel agents are willing to try new options to give their repeat travelers a different experience,” says Gupta.
Despite the positive growth story, 2018 saw its share of problems, and most of them have got to do with visa regulations.
“With visa rejections coming in last minute, many times the guests have to cancel their cabins, which becomes difficult for cruise liners to sell last minute. Also, Indian travelers are last-minute bookers, which sometimes lead to difficulty in availability of cabins, which are booked by other markers well in advance,” rues Gupta.
From a homeporting point of view, the industry saw an improvement in port facilities and a better understanding of this sector from government agencies such as the customs department, immigration, and Central Industrial Security Force (CISF).
Players in the cruise industry believe that the need of the hour is a clear cruise policy. “An exemption of taxes needs to be brought out by the government to enable this sector to flourish in India and gain its rightful place in the world,” says Gupta. This year, cruising will be on every traveler’s wish list. Weddings and MICE movements will dole out more revenues to the industry.
The industry is also looking forward to the opening of the new international cruise terminal in Mumbai.