It will be recalled that in February 2020, when people aboard the UK-registered luxury cruise ship Diamond Princess were struck by COVID-19, commentators described it as a “floating petri dish” and predicted the end of the holidays at sea. The return of cruise lines has brought optimism to an industry battered by a prolonged shutdown. The first restart efforts were initiated at the first International Cruise Conference of India organized by the Port Authorities of Mumbai in May 2022, which was attended by various stakeholders including cruise lines such as Royal Caribbean, Holland America, MSC Cruises SA, just to name a few to name a few.
Although the revival is slow and has only started with small and medium-sized vessels (200 and 400 person capacity), it has caused waves of relief in the industry. “The return of international cruise ships to India brings new opportunities in the shipping and tourism sectors. Compared to previous years, the number of scheduled calls to India has increased,” says Nevil Malao, VP Cruise and Navy Cell of Shipping Agency, JM Baxi & Co, adding that they are handling over 50 ships this season through May 2023 . “Despite the ongoing fears of COVID-19 in various countries, we can see this as a positive growth in cruise tourism,” he says.
Nevil speaks of around 20 calls (a typical port call takes 12 hours) to Mumbai, Goa, Kochi and Agatti in the Lakshwadeep Islands with domestic cruise line Cordelia this season. “Cruises are now more affordable following the arrival of Cordelia Cruise in India in September 2021. They are no longer seen as elitist and are affordable to a wider spectrum of society,” he says.
Currently Cordelia Cruises offers 3-5 day voyages to Mumbai, Goa, Kochi and Agatti and is scheduled to add Chennai-Sri Lanka to their itinerary from June to September. The cruise line, which began operations in 2021, has so far “delivered joy to over 200,000 customers”. “We host large events for milestone birthdays, anniversaries, wedding celebrations and corporate events and offer flexibility to choose from different itineraries as well as categories,” says Jurgen Bailom, President and CEO of Waterways Leisure Tourism, whose MV Empress is now a household name in Indian Harbours.
A traditional reception for Europa-2 at the Sagarika International Cruise Terminal in Kochi. She was the first ship to arrive in Kochi in 2022
“We are by no means back to pre-COVID-19 levels, but a rebound has started,” says Michael Haidar Ali of Micato Safaris, a New Delhi-based luxury tour operator (shore excursion agent) that also deals in cruises.
Other tour operators agree, excited about the season’s itinerary. Rani Bachani, Executive Director of Viceregal Travel & Resorts Ltd, based in Kochi, is taking a group of 26 people to Greenland and Iceland on NCL (Norwegian Cruise Liner) in July. “This cruise starts and ends in Reykjavik and is not as frequent as other regular European ones, so it is expensive. The cost for a 10-night experience is ₹3 lakh, excluding airfare, visas and insurance,” says Rani.
“We want people to return to vacation on cruise lines, so on our part we offer excellent value for money,” adds Ratna Chadha of Tirun RCCL, who represents Royal Caribbean’s domestic market. It declares value as ensuring health security for passengers. “The HEPA air conditioning systems (High Efficiency Particle Air Filter) in the ships blow air into certain areas and prevent the circulation of germs; our buffets are much wider; The theaters have multiple shows and the seating is spread out,” says Ratna.
Nalini Gupta, Costa Cruises’ GSA (General Sales Agent) in India, agrees that people are now traveling aggressively and the company’s Costa Deliziosa would be calling at Mumbai on January 30th. The ship, with a capacity of about 2260 passengers and 934 crew members, sets sail January 11 in Lake Savona, Italy.
Michael explains why only “small ships” were used in the first season. “Ships on a world cruise generally begin their voyage in January. People either book for the entire three to four month period or do a segment. The bulk of the ships we get in India are those that are repositioning, sailing in Asia in the winter and moving to Europe from April to October. Cruise ships have been hit very hard by the pandemic. All of our neighboring countries had not yet opened, so the use of ships had to be carefully considered in terms of profitability.”
Nevil adds that uncertainty among cruise ship passengers about the ongoing COVID-19 situation in various countries has resulted in cruise lines only offering small to medium-sized ships for cruising around the world. “Most shipping companies are still deploying the ships close to their home ports as the pandemic uncertainty continues,” says Nalini.
Nevil says that the Indian government has already taken various initiatives such as: Visa facilitation to boost tourism”, but some initiatives such as a single window clearance system for cruise ships, standard clearance procedures in all ports, reduction in documentation requirements, fixed per-passenger customs duties, waiver of priority fees in all ports would further improve cruise travel .
Due to the ease of transition and growing demand, many new cruise lines such as Viking Ocean, Crystal Cruises and Virgin Cruise have scheduled their cruise ships to call at India. Cordelia Cruises will also introduce “new itineraries to destinations near and far in Asia and the subcontinent,” says Jürgen
According to passenger feedback, Mangalore is becoming a popular port. “Although it has a small cruise terminal, it works; We use Karnataka Tourism buses and despite the lack of professional guides we use teachers, senior students and professors to present the region. The reports are encouraging,” says Michael. He adds that Mumbai and Kochi tend to be more popular than Chennai Port. “It suffers from poor infrastructure, unavailability of professional guides and a limited number of sightseeing opportunities.” Mumbai, on the other hand, says Michael, offers passengers a choice of over 15 different tours led by articulate and knowledgeable guides, with an impressive majority being women.
“Kochi is the only port in India with two world-class cruise terminals – Samudrika and Sagarika. In order to provide passengers with an experience as soon as they disembark, the Port of Cochin proposes to develop ‘Kochi Haat’, where local vendors are allowed to sell souvenirs, ethnic products, clothing, Ayurvedic products, spices, etc.,” says Vipin R. Menoth, Traffic Manager, Cochin Port Authority.
Another fallout from COVID-19, says Sejoe Jose, managing director of Kochi-based Marvel Tours, is that 80% of passengers prefer organized tours with the cruise partner. “It’s for safety, but it hurts the disorganized market like auto rickshaws and individual shops.”
Sheela K Chittilappilly, who loves cruises for their “slow pace and exclusive space,” has taken six cruises to date and is really looking forward to her trip to Alaska in July. As an experienced traveller, she is not concerned about the safety measures on board and is confident that they are of the highest standard.
Maritime India Vision 2030 (MIV 2030)
In February 2021, the Government of India initiated the Maritime India Vision 2030 (MIV 2030) to make India the cruise development hub of the world. Goals for developing India as a cruise destination include increasing the number of Indian cruises from 150 to 1,000 in five years. “Some of the key initiatives taken were Standardized Operating Procedures (SOPs) for cruise ships in all major ports, for all foreign-flagged ships carrying passengers to call at Indian ports without obtaining a license from the Director General of Shipping until February 2024 ; a streamlined composite fare for cruise ships in all major ports, walk-in docking or priority docking for cruise ships, and financial support for ports building cruise terminals,” says Vipin R. Menonth, Traffic Manager, Cochin Port
MV Ganga Vilas
The longest river cruise in the world
The epic 51-day cruise along the Ganges and Brahmaputra organized by Antara Cruises began. from Kashi (Uttar Pradesh) to Dibrugarh (Assam) via Sunderbans and Bangladesh and will sail across 27 minor rivers, five states and two countries.
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