India is fast becoming one of the largest source markets for Middle East cruise tourism after Europe and the United States, with overall growth of 40% in the number of Indian’s that went on a cruise in 2016 compared to the year before.
The Indian cruise market is also growing, with more international cruise visitors to the country than ever before.
“In 2014-15, a total of 104,125 passengers were handled at five major ports, which increased to 125,838 in 2015-16, a growth of 21%,” says P Radhakrishnan, minister of state for shipping. “In 2016-17, major ports handled 122,093 passengers up to January,” he added.
Ratna Chadha, chief executive of Tirun Travel Marketing and India representative of Royal Caribbean Cruises, says Indian cruise passengers generally prefer fly-cruise options.
“Singapore, Dubai, Hong Kong, the Mediterranean and Caribbean are popular destinations among Indians,” she says. “The cost per person is $150-200 per night. This is comparable to what one would typically pay for an overseas vacation on land.”
In India itself, the government is trying to boost both river and ocean cruise tourism, with Dubai officials having indicated earlier this year that they would like to play a part in developing cruise tourism in India.
Dubai wants to be the homeport of choice for cruise lines operating roundtrip itineraries to the west coast of India. Currently Celebrity Cruises and AIDA Cruises are the only two cruise lines offering such voyages on an annual basis during the Arabian Gulf cruise season.
“The government is keen to boost this sector,” says Chadha. “This year, we expect a 60% growth rate over the previous year in passenger bookings from India.”
The Indian government has constituted a task force with secretary (tourism) as its chairman and secretary (shipping) as co-chairman. Based on its recommendation, the ministries of shipping and tourism have appointed a consultant to prepare an action plan and a detailed road map to develop cruise tourism in India.
With a 7,500-km coastline, India has huge potential as a cruise destination, tourism ministry officials have said. However, a major problem for the sector is the fact that India lacks suitable cruise infrastructure at its major ports.
Of the 12 largest ports in India, only Mumbai, Goa, Cochin, New Mangalore and Chennai have facilities for berthing international cruise ships and many of the existing cruise terminals are outdated and in need of redevelopment.