The growth of Indian cruise passengers will exceed that of China, says Nalini Udai Gupta, Managing Director, Lotus Destinations (GSA Costa Cruise India). Here she shares her views on the cruise industry.
What do you think of the Indian government’s initiative to boost cruise tourism in the country?
As the government realizes the importance and the benefits of the cruising industry on the Blue Economy of India, we are hoping that the tax climate, that is custom duties and the GST will become more customer-friendly and also in accordance with international norms. Tax exemptions for at least 10 years, will definitely entice more international cruise liners to homeport in India. These proposals have also been supported by the Ministry of Tourism and Shipping, which is a very positive sign. The government is also spending a large amount of money to improve the infrastructure at ports and align it to international standards. Also, tourists are also able to get visa-on-arrival facilities at the Indian ports.
Could you shed light on the outbound market for cruise tourism in India? What are the key trends dominating this sector?
More Indians are cruising to Singapore. Indians, in fact, account for one of Singapore’s largest source markets for cruising. 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. Our sailings in Singapore during the Diwali and Christmas season, also have many Indian travelers. However, in the recent past, 7 nights’ sailings in even the Mediterranean region have become popular. In fact, we were the first cruise liner to have an Indian wedding on our Europe sailing, with over 2,000 guests traveling to Milan to embark on the cruise. As Indians recognize cruising as an easy, relaxing, and great value-for-the-money way to travel, after they take their first cruise, they are wanting to combine cruises with their land vacations.
In the recent past, we have also seen travel agents from not only Tier 1 cities of India, but also from Tier 2 and 3 cities, selling cruise packages.
Could you shed light on the inbound market for cruise tourism in India? What are the key trends dominating this sector?
The inbound market for cruise tourism is doing well. However, typically the foreign passenger prefers to take a longer cruise of at least 10-14 nights. Many foreigners love seeing India through a cruise and are spending good amounts of money at each of the ports.
How well-positioned is India to emerge as the most sought-after cruise tourism destination?
The real growth and opportunity of cruise tourism in India are 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 the growth of Indian cruise passengers will exceed that of China, once home-porting becomes more popular.
What additional steps should the Indian government take to upgrade cruise tourism?
Experts say India has the potential to develop a thriving domestic cruise business—if only the costs didn’t stand in the way. Among the prevalent being GST & Custom duties on the consumption of alcohol, bonded stores, and bunkers in territorial waters, out to 200 nautical miles.
What are the key challenges your brand is facing at the moment?
Since Costa Cruise sells across the globe, many a time, the cabins are booked by other markets well in advance. Therefore, with Indian clients, who book in the last minute, there is a dearth of availability of cabins. Also, there are last minute cancellations due to visa rejections and delays.
What strategies are you implementing to position your brand as the preferred cruise for tourists?
Well, for starters, we are the first cruise liner that has come back to Mumbai to homeport a ship after 10 years. This shows our dedication towards wanting to build the Indian market. We have seen a great increase in numbers from the time we started our India program in December 2016. These increase in numbers have been across even our Europe and Singapore sailings. We also work with travel agents closely and try to be as flexible towards their needs and the customers. Lastly, we have made sure to have important customizations like the availability of Indian/ Jain meal requests. All these initiatives have helped in great word-of-mouth publicity, which not only brings in new clients but also repeat customers.
What kind of tie-ups do you already have or are you looking at?
We usually have many partnerships with airlines for Fly+Cruise for the Mumbai to Maldives, and Cochin to Maldives sailings. These offers do very well and make it simpler for the travel agent to sell the product. We are looking at having more such initiatives across sailings in Europe, Dubai, and other Costa destinations.