Indian outbound cruise tourism has the potential to grow exponentially
As international tourism is heading towards gaining its lost ground to pre pandemic level, each segment of the travel and tourism is full of optimism. And Cruise Tourism, which was first to be impacted by Covid-10, is rebounding faster than anticipated, and the growing demand as well as its emerging trends indicate that travellers globally are ready to sail again.
Naresh Rawal, VP of Sales and Marketing, Resorts World Cruises in India says that the MICE segment is gaining strong traction and will further contribute towards the growth of the overall Fly-Cruise market in 2023. A transition that has prominently occurred denotes younger travelers joining for a cruise, which includes millennials, couples, young families, groups of friends, as well as families and multi-generation families. “We are also gaining traction towards other segments such as the Muslim markets in region, as the Genting Dream is the World’s First Halal-Friendly Cruise Ship with also certified vegetarian cuisine that is also appealing to guests from India”, Rawal adds.
Tim Jones, Managing Director for Celebrity Cruises, Australia, New Zealand & Asia, mentions that people’s passion for cruising is definitely not over and they wish to get back to the pre-covid situation. They are looking for more retreat and suite-class products when booking with Celebrity Cruises, which brings to them a scope of bringing more relaxing and luxury-designed environments for high-value clients.
Manoj Singh, Country Head – India, Norwegian Cruise Line states that the current trend involves opting for port-rich itineraries that imply visiting unique destinations that allow travelers to fully immerse in local culture, meaning more overnights and fewer sea days.
Drawing light on guests shifting preferences, Vasundhara Gupta, Head of Marketing & Business Development, Lotus Aero Enterprises (GSA for Costa Cruises), says that a trend has emerged of opting for destinations closer to home with shorter flight durations, especially due to the higher airfares and easy visa regulations. On the other hand, she believes that cruise companies are introducing newer ships with more innovative onboard attractions, more onboard technology, exotic itineraries, and LNG ships are some of the key emerging trends to cope with the requirements of the ever-evolving cruise clientele.
India as a Market
Rawal addresses India as an important and growing Fly-Cruise source market with ships’ homeport in Singapore and Hong Kong, with regards to Resorts World Cruises.
For NCL, India is referred to as a key source market and destination and committing fully to this market. “We see lots of potential in the Indian market for growth and the travel trade is a vital part of our future,” adds Singh. With a guiding ‘Partners First’ philosophy i.e doubling down on valued travel partners in India, Book-A-BDM by NCL is launched that enables travel agents and tour operators to seamlessly communicate with NCL’s regional Business Development Managers (BDMs) and book a 30-minute personal session.
Talking about the targeted market segments, Nishith Saxena, Nishith Saxena, Founder & Director, Cruise Professionals, (representing Princess Cruises in India), opines that Princess Cruisess’s focus in India remains on friends & family groups traveling together. “The guests belong to the HNI & super HNI strata who plan their vacations very meticulously as a result of which we get better value than the last minute travelers. This is the outcome of extensive market coverage during the last 23 years since Princess established its presence in India”, Saxena adds.
India is small currently, states Gupta, however, it can grow at an exponential pace, if more cruise liners homeport in India. India is one of the only markets with a varied group of customers, from corporate and wedding groups to honeymooners and senior citizens. However, presently India contributes to not even 1% of the global cruising numbers.
She further adds, “As more cruise companies like us homeport ships from ports in India, bringing the cruising concept closer to the Indian traveler, the number of Indian cruisers is estimated to grow by leaps and bounds, for not only India itineraries, but also other itineraries close to home like Dubai, Singapore, Mediterranean, Alaska and even more exotic routes like Antarctica.”
Costa Cruises sees exponential growth in terms of passenger numbers from India. “While we will not give a number to it, just to give an idea we had for our Dubai cruise season on Costa Toscana from Dec 2022 to Mar 2023 we had a 200% growth in passenger numbers from our Dec 2019 to March 2020 season”, opines Gupta.
Since the launch of Resorts World Cruises in May 2022, it has observed positive responses and increasing bookings from the India market, covering a wider segment, including the MICE group. Optimistic about the continued growth of Indian market, Rawal states to expect an upward trend in the number of passengers in 2023.
Bringing a parallel viewpoint, Saxena says that with newer vessels, there would be an opportunity for newer ports & destinations to promote themselves and help in developing new destinations as well as widening the source markets. He further adds that the Cruise industry still represents a very small percentage of holiday goers internationally with about 31 million ocean going cruise passengers estimated to sail in 2023. But from here-on the annual growth of ocean-going passengers is expected to surpass all other forms of holiday goers, for at least another decade.
Princess Cruises currently operates a fleet of 15 modern ships. “Alaska is one of the most favourite itineraries on Princess for Indians, Alaska has been developed as a destination by Princess and the connect which the cruise line enjoys with the local communities in all Alaskan ports is overwhelming”, Saxena mentions. Other popular itineraries that Indian guests primarily book are the Mediterranean, Antarctica, North Europe, Japan & Australia.
Jones mentions that the itineraries which are gaining momentum in favor of Celebrity Cruises are in the eastern Mediterranean, Italy, Greece, Croatia, Turkey, Istanbul, which have grown particularly. And Greece is the destination that is one of the first ones that has opened up. In terms of the new itineraries, Japan 2024 is going to have its first new summer program. New Edge series ships are also going to have their presence in Alaska, referred to as the old favorite of Indian travelers, and New Zealand as well for the first time. Jones says that now Celebrity is going to have a perfect destination-mix with Edge series ships covering Europe, Alaska, the Caribbean, Australia, New Zealand.
Besides, Celebrity Cruises has announced itineraries that will start from Mumbai at the end of this year as part of its 2023/2024 winter deployment schedule. This itinerary is expected to draw opportunities for the cruising industry as a whole and Celebrity Edge will be the first in the Edge class of ships that will call on Mumbai and Kochi mid-November 2023
Rawal opines that Resorts World Cruises is exploring new options and opportunities for the India market. “RWC will continue to introduce itineraries with appealing destinations such as the 3-Night cruises to Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Phuket from Singapore with the Genting Dream. In Hong Kong, RWC will continue to offer High Seas cruises and itineraries to Taiwan, which include Kaohsiung and Penghu,” Rawal adds.
Gupta reveals that Costa Cruises has itineraries across Europe all year round with a combination of short 3/4 nights itineraries which fit very well within the needs of the Indian client along with 7-nights itineraries. “We also introduced from Dec 2022 to March 2023 short 2/3/4 nights itineraries in the Middle East which did extremely well”, Gupta adds.
Talking about the newest developments, Singh adds that the 1,936-capacity Norwegian Sun will visit India in April 2025, calling at Cochin, Mangalore, Goa and Mumbai during a 15-day sailing from Singapore to Doha, Qatar. Indian guests will also be able to explore a 17-Day Asia; Maldives, Thailand & Seychelles Journey aboard Norwegian Sky from Mauritius to Singapore across the Indian Ocean.
“The newest ship in our fleet, Norwegian Viva, will debut in August this year. With sailings from Lisbon, Athens (Piraeus), Rome (Civitavecchia) and Venice (Trieste), Norwegian Viva will appeal to Indian travellers. Meanwhile, as a part of our 2024/25 exotic itineraries, we recently announced we’ll be bringing three ships to Asia for the very first time – Norwegian Spirit, Norwegian Sky, and Norwegian Sun. Sister ships Norwegian Sun and Norwegian Sky will both make their debut in Asia for the very first time from October 2024 through May 2025. Norwegian Sky will make the Brand’s very first port of call to Akita, Japan in October 2024”, adds Singh.
Safety & Security
Saxena, reveals that CFW (Cancellation Fee Waiver), a cruise cancellation penalty waiver program is available for passengers cruising onboard Princess Cruises. The program offers a cancellation fee waiver as well as baggage protection in a single package, neither may be purchased separately. This non-refundable program is not trip interruption insurance and only covers cancellation fees and passenger’s baggage while on the cruise, cruise tour or Cruise Plus and is available for purchase at the deposit stage.
“Princess Cruises instituted this unique program more than a decade ago and there is no other cruise line probably, which offers such a facility to passengers. This program provides a heightened sense of financial security which is why this is termed as At Ease”, opines Saxena.
In terms of the security of the trip, Celebrity Cruises has collaborated with SafeTrip in India, as the land insurance did not look favorable to cruise scenario. This partnership will ensure a start-to-end coverage to the cruise tour, which was incorporated just 2 months ago.
In the current era, with the transition from pre to post Covid scenario, safety plays a major trick in the minds of the traveler while opting for any experience. Facilitating this fact, Gupta says Costa Cruises intends to make sure there is no overcrowding in public areas. The protocols involved are full isolation of guests who tested positive, well-placed sanitizer machines, and buffets served by Costa Crew staff.
Resort World Cruises, with a similar notion, counts on monitoring crew health, mandatory wearing of face masks during boarding, and maintaining hygiene practices for ensuring safety environment during the sail. Besides, RWC has onboard facilities with stringent protocols in place, access to PCR testing onboard, isolation cabins, and certified medical practitioners in the event of an outbreak.
Singh highlights that NCL has a health & safety program ‘Sail Safe’ that puts guests and crew members first by keeping everyone safe and healthy on board, through a robust science-backed program to broaden cleaning, sanitation, and air filtration technologies across fleet.