Mumbai’s docks witnessed a 310 per cent hike in the number of cruise passengers, over the last three years, thanks to the new infrastructure and policy reforms by the Mumbai Port Trust and Ministry of Shipping
Cruise tourism in India is expected to rise to over 4 million passengers, from India and abroad, by 2030, and 3.2 million of those passengers will travel through and from Mumbai – according to the predictions made by the Ministry of Shipping and the Mumbai Port Trust. There has been a steady rise in the number of ships and passengers since 2017, thanks to the new, conducive government policies, construction of new cruising infrastructure at Mumbai Port Trust and Indians’ growing interest in cruising.
In 2017, 40 ships and 56,601 passengers docked in Mumbai, which spiked to 106 ships and 86,757 passengers in 2018. The year is expected to see 256 ships and 2,32,478 passengers, recording a 310 per cent hike in three years. TIRUN, the exclusive representative of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. in India, reported a 25 per cent compound annual growth rate (CAGR) over the past three years. The statistics goes to show the kind of response received by cruise tourism in the country in the last three years. “India is a sought-after destination and hence it is natural for cruise ships to call on its ports,” says Varun Chadha, TIRUN’s CEO. “Both our segmented sailings in May this year – Dubai to Mumbai and Mumbai to Singapore – were sold out” he adds.
Among the top players in the global cruise line industry are Royal Caribbean Cruises (including its subsidiaries Celebrity Cruises and Azamara Club Cruises), Carnival Corporation (along with its Costa Cruises and Seabourn Cruise Line) and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (and its Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises). India plays host to all three cruise lines, either through itineraries docking at the port or tours that allow passengers to embark from the city.
To make cruises accessible to guests in India, Royal Caribbean segments its long itineraries between Dubai and Singapore with dockings at Mumbai and Kochi, allowing Indian guests to embark and disembark at these ports. Two months ago, in May, the largest ship to ever see Indian shores – Spectrum of the Seas – docked in Mumbai while on a 14-night itinerary from Dubai to Singapore. Ships from its ‘Celebrity Cruises’ subsidiary have also called on Mumbai’s port in the last couple of years.
Norwegian’s Regent Seven Seas and Oceania sailings through Mumbai, Goa, Mangalore and Kochi usher in scores of international passengers, excited to see different parts of India.
Carnival Corporation’s Costa Cruises was the first international cruise line to begin homeporting in Mumbai in 2016. A home port is the port from which a ship primarily operates – involving embarking and disembarking of passengers and replenishing of supplies and fuel. Costa operates itineraries between Mumbai and Malé, in the Maldives; both being homeports.
India’s cruise circle
Touted as one of the fastest growing segments in the travel and hospitality industry, cruise travel in India has become quite popular with the discerning lot, from Metros and Tier-II and III cities such as Indore, Raipur, Kochi, Jaipur, Chandigarh/Ludhiana, wanting to enjoy a hassle-free vacation, or host a unique wedding or corporate event.
“There has been an upsurge in the disposable income of Indians, especially amongst the younger generation, that wants to travel and see the world,” says KN Surendran, Director, Mumbai of Lotus Destinations, the ground handling agents of Carnival Cruises in the country. “Moreover, restrictive cabotage laws in the country, which formerly prevented Indians from boarding cruise ships in India, have been modified over the last 3 to 4 years making it easy for Indians to access desired cruises. This is largely due to the potential seen by the Ministry of Shipping, with cruise tourism boosting revenue and employment opportunities for the country.”
“The trend of weddings at sea is also on the rise in India. Millionaires who attend such weddings in foreign countries would like to throw such wedding parties for their own family weddings, and since the number of cruise ships sailing through India is increasing; so are the opportunities. Further, it is convenient to host events, rituals and parties at one destination and offer guests something unique. There is no need to ferry guests from one location to another. Everything is available in one place, with five-star facilities to top it off.” says Mr. Surendran.
He also mentions the rising trends of MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions) tourism on cruise ships, with large corporations such as Asian Paints taking employees on cruises departing from Mumbai and Cochin.
Having been on eight cruises, schoolteacher Meena Mehta, 50, is an avid cruiser. She has been on Royal Caribbean cruises from Dubai to Mumbai, and Mumbai to Singapore. “I like to cruise because it’s an easy way to travel and relax – everything I want is right on the ship; food, activities, or entertainment and it’s not tiring at all. It’s also economical, as I don’t have to spend on flying from one place to another, and it has become so much easier now to cruise from India.” says Meena.
Her daughter-in-law Payal, 25, who works in real estate, has also taken two cruise holidays with the family. “We try to go for a cruise at least once a year. Fifteen of us are going for a cruise this December, and I think cruising is becoming more popular amongst Indians because of word-of-mouth experiences like ours,” says Payal.
The Mehtas also love the opportunity to interact with travellers from all over the globe in cruises. “We like to give them travel tips for India, and they always seem so interested and friendly. One couple from the US even visited our home,” Payal adds.
The growth in the cruising sector can also be attributed to new developmental projects by the government, including the construction of new international and domestic cruise terminals in Mumbai, waterfront and floating restaurants, an amphitheatre, marina, and restoration of the Kanhoji Angre Lighthouse on Khanderi island near Mumbai as an offshore excursion. “We provide guaranteed berths to cruise ships at Mumbai Port,” says Bhatia.
Uniform, single government policies for docking at all major ports in the country have also been introduced, with discounts ranging from 42 per cent to 67 per cent on port charges and tariffs for docking. The e-Visa facility has also enabled passengers to avail online and on-arrival visas, easing the immigration process.
Surendran from Lotus also reports that the time spent by guests at immigration and customs terminals in India has considerably reduced to 30 minutes from two hours a few years ago. The cruise industry in India, particularly Mumbai, has clear skies for smoothing sailing.