Let CRUISE TOURISM reflect A PROMISING Future!

Published: November 2nd, 2013,11:00

Let CRUISE TOURISM reflect A PROMISING Future! 

Today, India holds high potential for the cruise market, as travellers are increasingly interested in exclusive travel  experiences, especially those which offer much  greater value than their expectations – in short, the WOW experience!

But unfortunately, this industry both in terms of inbound as well as outbound still remains to be tapped to reap full potentials.

Sanjay BasuAs Sanjay Basu, Managing Director, Far Horizon Tours Pvt.Ltd. rightly points out, “Cruise Tourism is a huge latent industry in a completely nascent stage. The problems faced by this industry are leading to a situation where it is not being able to show a growth which will bring to India the fastest growing segment of the worldwide tourism industry (growth last year was 14%), which is the largest industry in the world!”

 

Current Scenario in Cruise Tourism, India – Inbound / Outbound

Nishith Saxena, Director, Cruise Professionals says,

Nishith Saxena“Cruise Tourism as a segment has been talked about in a lot of forums, but the ground reality is that the stake holders & policymakers have very limited understanding of this business. As a result, there is not much happening with regards to developing domestic cruise tourism circuits and the inbound cruise traffic is also not very high. The only sub-segment of the Cruise Tourism which is keeping the market interested about this vacation option is the outbound traffic. Most international cruise companies have set-up their presence in India through their own or representative offices. The efforts of these cruise companies are visible in various marketing activities which keep happening throughout the year. As a result, we have a decent number of passengers sailing on these cruise lines in Alaska, Baltic, Caribbean, Mediterranean, South Asia and other popular regions. But to say that Cruise Tourism in India has established itself in its totality would be incorrect.”

“It is true that in India, cruising is still in its nascent years of gaining popularity. However, over the past twenty years, there has been a considerable change in the consumers’ profile and preferences,” emphasizes Ratna Chadha, CEO TIRUN Travel Marketing.  

Ratna ChadhaElaborating further she says, “Travellers have started perceiving cruising as a viable and effective vacation option over the years. With a variety of ships and itineraries, we have effectively tapped all segments of the market.  As cruise brands such as those in the Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. portfolio offer a wide range of luxury amenities and integrative cruise vacations which encompass adventure & activities, dining, leisure, accommodation and much more into the holiday at an inclusive rate, the cruisers tend to come back to this form of vacation option often. Furthermore, cruise holidays are increasingly becoming an interesting choice of vacation for various segments including individuals, groups or families, corporates as well as special occasions such as celebrations and weddings.”

Tarique Hussain, Co-founder, Cruise Club has an interesting observation on the subject. He says

Tarique“Traditionally, while the preference has been for 2-5 night cruises, the emerging trend is longer duration cruises. For example, 7 night cruises are now the norm when guests go to Alaska or Mediterranean. Guests are also increasingly seeking bucket-list destinations such as Arctic, Antarctica, Galapagos, etc.”

Growth in last 2 years 

Last two years (2012 – 2013) have been extremely challenging w.r.t growth in overall vacation spend, according to Saxena.

The markets have not been very investor friendly, exchange rate for US$ have shot up by 20% and there has been a lot of negative geo-political publicity & events. In such a scenario, it is commendable if the businesses have been able to keep themselves afloat. Our observation has been that travel businesses which have included cruises in their portfolio have sustained due to higher retentions, opines Saxena.

While Ratna Chadha points out, “We have witnessed a considerable growth and changing preferences over our two decades of being the cruise pioneers in India. Travellers have started perceiving cruising as a viable and effective vacation option over the years.”

Speaking on her product offering, she reveals, “At TIRUN we represent three leading cruise brands within the country namely Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises and Azamara Club Cruises – and amongst the three we currently offer a choice of 34 ships across all continents and a variety of  itineraries to the Indian traveller. Hence we have been able to effectively offer an ideal product for every preference. Whilst usually first time cruisers tend to consider destinations such as Asia and Mediterranean, increasingly Indian guests are also now considering more explorative and exotic destinations such as Alaska, Australia & New Zealand, North Europe and Caribbean as their primary choice of cruises as well. If not for the first cruise vacation, for the repeats, which are high in cruises, longer sailings and destinations   in North Europe, Alaska and more exotic sailings in Antarctica/ Arctic, the Far East amongst others, are definitely growing in prominence.”

Challenges in growth 

Sanjay Basu, Managing Director, Far Horizon Tours Pvt.Ltd. attributes the slow growth to several factors but highlights key factors in segments covering Sea and River Cruise.

For segment covering Sea Cruises:

a) The Indian Port charges are the most expensive in the world and these charges are despite lack of any international quality infrastructure like cruise terminals. These charges need to be brought down.

b) Closure of some of our most important sea cruise destinations like some of the spectacular islands in the Andaman Seas for example, the Barren Island, which is a functional volcano.

c) Creating of cruise terminals and easing of access from the sea to the sea side destinations like Puri in Odisha, Mahaballipuram and Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu. Kochi and Thiruvanthapuram in Kerala. Goa and Mumbai including the Elephanta Caves. Somnath, Dwarka, Diu and Bhavnagar-Palitana in Gujarat. Regulating but creating access in a sustainable manner to the Barren Island, Havelock Island and Cinque Islands in Andaman Seas, etc.

For River Cruising segment challenges are as follows:

a)         The IWAI needs to deploy an adequate number of dredgers throughout national waterways 1, 2 and 3 and need to ensure that the dredgers are covering the main tourism routes of Kolkata till Varanasi on NW1, Guwahati till Dibrugarh on NW2 and Kochi till Quilon on NW3. Without the dredgers, the navigational channels get blocked due to silting and boats get stuck with disruption to the cruise programs and thus unhappy tourists.

b)         Modification of low level bridges established against the law of minimum clearances for the same, which then removes the ability to navigate boats under them. This is of particular requirement in NW3, the Kerala Backwaters.

c)          Creation of a mechanism whereby, the pontoon bridges on NW1 can be opened for passage of cruise boats, which is possible with adequate mechanical facilities being installed.

Steps for Boosting Growth

 

There are several steps which need to be taken to propel growth in Cruise Tourism in India.

According to Nishith Saxena, Director, Cruise Professionals :

(a)   A clear cut Cruise Tourism Policy which should define the “Indian Vision” over the next 5, 10, 15 & 20 years.

(b)  Domestic Cruise circuits must be identified for ocean cruising & river cruising and nurtured.

(c)   Private players must be invited with long term Tax subsidy (BOT basis) to handle domestic circuits.

(d)  International cruise lines should be invited to inspect cruise terminals & their opinions sought regarding upgrading the facility.

(e)   An association of all cruise tourism stakeholders / cruise lines should be formed and this association should take lead into educating the consumers & intermediaries about cruise vacation options.

Infrastructure & Marketing Initiatives

According to Basu, “For Inbound Cruise Tourism, apart from the requirements for infrastructural improvements, a major marketing campaign is required on a worldwide basis to establish in the minds of the international tourists the cruise attractions of India, with its three major inland waterways, coral islands and famous destinations alongside it’s coastline.

He further adds, “Financial support in the form of subsidies need to be given for the building of cruise ships which are very highly capital intensive, have a very high level of depreciation and long gestation phases. This is especially true in the case of a new destination which will take time to first create adequate infrastructure, then build its marketing brand and realize a tourism movement which will be sustainable for the cruise ship investments to finally become viable.”

Educate, Train and Create Awareness

According to Ratna Chadha, “Creating Awareness and Education are important and we have been undertaking an extensive awareness campaign for cruise travel over the past 20 years. We constantly launch special above the line initiatives, below the line activities, exciting and relevant promotions, channel partner programs, audience engagement programs and an array of other integrated marketing solutions.”

“Our goal is to empower the travel agent, make them better equipped with knowledge and tools, which when added to their own unique individual skills, will make them true cruise counsellors and help identify the right brand for their target audience – for instance RCI is a contemporary, family product, more for the first timers with the largest ships in the world and offering an array of at sea innovations. Azamara ships are small and go to exotic locales and usually attract the niche audience or repeat cruisers. Celebrity Cruises are an epitome of modern luxury with exquisite dining and spa offerings, appealing the crème de la crème of the society.”

Likewise, Tarique Hussain, Co-founder, Cruise Club lays much emphasis on Training as he says:  “At Cruise Club, we have been investing heavily in training our travel agent partners to equip them to sell cruises more efficiently. Our Cruise 101 module introduces agents broadly to the world of cruising, before further modules delve into more details on styles of cruises and destination offerings.”

“Create a common pool for knowledge and training so that everyone could benefit from the same place. This will enrich the knowledge of the ones who are using these pools,” comments Sumit Banerji of Cruise Masters.

To conclude in the words of Nishith Saxena, “The government’s “Policy Paralysis” situation and issues pertaining to multiple taxation etc. directly impact the growth story we would all like to see happen.”

-      By Sharmila Chand

The writer is a Senior Resident Editor with Food & Beverage Business Review | Hotel Business Review | Bakery Review | Clean & Hygiene Review.  She is also a Freelance Writer for Hospitality I Travel | Lifestyle | Food. http://tranquilsharmila.com/

Published: November 2nd, 2013,11:00

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