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Cruise Tourism: Sailing through the storm

Over the last few years, India has grown significantly as a source market for the cruising industry across the globe. Mediterranean cruising, Asian cruises, river cruising, expedition cruises, etc, every segment have welcomed Indian travellers and further foresee demand. There is a market for every product and segment in the India market. Today, also players are looking to develop river-cruising in India to tap the domestic segment.

According to industry data, the cruise sector supports 1.2 million jobs and contributes US$150 billion to the global economy every year. Tourism is vitally important for Small Islands States, where it sustains millions of livelihoods and brings substantial socio-economic benefits.

As per the latest reports by DataM Intelligence, the Global Cruise Tourism Market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 10 per cent during the forecasting period (2021-2028). APAC is expected to be the fastest-growing market with a double-digit growth rate due to the demand from developing nations such as China and India.

One of the most positive movement in the India market has been the launch of Cordelia Cruises with its first ship – the Empress. By August 2022, the cruise line is planning to add another ship to its fleet and, by 2025, have between four and six ships. Its first itineraries are around India, Sri Lanka and the Maldives.

Speaking about the India market said Jurgen Bailom, CEO and president of Waterways Leisure Tourism, stated, “We believe that India has a huge potential. Given the fact that cruising is growing up to 15 per cent a year here and India having the third largest coastline in the world with 7,600 kilometers, it made automatic sense that India deserved its own cruise line.To further examinate and assess the strategies of the cruise industry and to understand the way forward, T3 recently organised a conference session during SATTE GenX, titled ‘Cruise Tourism: Sailing through the storm’.

The session, moderated by Nishith Saxena, Founder & Director, Cruise Professionals, witnessed eminent panelists including Kathleen Randolph, Manager, International Sales, Princess Cruises; Peter Kollar, Head - International Training & Development, Cruise Line International Association (CLIA); Rakesh Nair, Head – Crew Lifecycle Business Support & Operations, Carnival Support Services India; Hans Lagerweij, President, Albatros International; Cdr Nevil Malao, V.P. Operations, J M Baxi & Co.

Current scenario

The good news is Cruising has restarted globally and has picked up well over the last couple of months. Experts feel that over 80 per cent of the vessels will be back in action by December 2021.

Speaking about the global cruising scenario, Kollar, says, “There has been a lot of discussion with all the stakeholders across the globe to restart this industry. More than 1 million passengers have now cruised across Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, UK, US, Caribbean and 200 CLIA ships back in operations. By December we expect 80 per cent of the vessels to be operating. Following a robust covid protocols that the industry is committed to.”

Further sharing CLIA’s role in encountering the pandemic he added, “The past 18 months, we have gone through extraordinary times and now we are on way to resumption. There were a lot of challenges encountered during the repatriation phase. CLIA joined with the most respected medical experts around the world and have come up with a Covid-19 safety guideline which is amongst the most stringent. We have always been the leaders in the health and safety standards even before the pandemic. We always had the expertise onboard, the medical facilities, experience and these are our core functions. This will remain the foundation to rebuild confidence amongst the public. All the cruise sellers should be familiar with all the protocols in place, there are over 70 protocol. Prevention in terms of testing and vaccination, medication and detection, comprehensive response strategies along with the ports are three key areas.”

India is growing at a steady pace in terms of cruise ship port of calls. With increasing awareness cruising is now becoming a mainstream tourism product.

Speaking about the Indian market, Malao, says, “We are the representatives of the shipping line in India for all the communications with the Government and the vendors. We strive to be the single window for the cruise so that we can enable their operations to be successful in India. In India we have seen a steady growth in terms of cruise ships coming which has grown at 10-12 per cent year on year. India handles about 140-150 ships annually with the main cruising season starting from October to May, as monsoon hinders the operations during the remaining part of the year. We have handled ships of various sizes right from expedition ships to ships of the spectrum class which has around 5700 passengers. We have to adhere to covid protocols in operations now which makes our efforts more important.”

The year that was

During the early phase of the pandemic, many major cruiselines were stranded globally. One of the major challenges during the initial phase was to rescue and repatriate passengers and crew members to their respective nations.

Nair said, “When the pandemic struck last year, one of the ships in spotlight were Princess Diamond in Japan, because of the impact it had globally, we had close to 225 Indian crew members onboard, we had a lot of positive appreciation notes from the passengers as the crew handled the situation. This is a testament for the trainings that we provide and handling situations during such crisis times.”

JM Baxi were one of the companies who have handled over 30,000 crew changes in the last 18 months. The group initially had to re-strategise and plan the repatriation as it was a totally new scenario.

Speaking about the initial challenges, Malao, stated, “We had to take approvals and convince the government as cruise ships are the safest bubbles as crew were already onboard for six to eight months. We were one of the few countries in the world who took quick decision of getting our crew back to India. It all started off in March end when we had a cruise ship waiting on Indian waters for six days with 145 crew. We did covid tests and crew were quarantined for 14 days before going to their final destinations. By June we got Ovation of the Seas with 900 passengers and a week later we got a cruise with 3000 Indian crew members. These were challenging but teams worked in tandem to solve these challenges. Regulations changed quickly and state to state had different regulations. Overall, not only cruise companies we handled, but we have also done 30,000 crew changes in last one and half years.”  

Niche markets and innovations

With India becoming a major hub for outbound tourism and with the growing appetite for unique experiences, cruise lines have started promoting exclusive niche products in this market. Expedition cruises are gaining popularity in India market due to the uniqueness of the product. The restriction in passenger numbers and the price points further makes it a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Lagerweij said that expedition trip to Antarctica is quite expensive and has a higher price point. He further explained, “This will not change a lot even in the coming times as all the expeditions are done on vessels which has a capacity of 200 pax per ship. From a cost point we miss the big scale to lower the pricing. The reason why we all work with 200 pax is we are only allowed to land 100 pax at a time in Antarctica. From an expedition cruise perspective, I don’t see any dynamics changing. There are bigger vessels with close to 500 pax, but that is a product where visitors can see Antarctica from a distance, and you might be lucky to get out once or twice during the trip. With a true expedition product one can spend 7-8 hours outside the ship per day. There will be more attractive price points with bigger ships. But its about the experience which customers look for. We see a lot of people onboard who have saved money for expeditions for a long time as it is a dream of their life. India as a destination has everything to offer to the world except some few experiences like these expeditions. We see a lot of interests from India for our products.”

Cruise lines are now further enhancing their products to further make the experience seamless and contactless. Princess Cruise has further invested into technology to provide unique offerings.

Randolph added, “More than ever technology has become extremely important. We have always been investing into technology, but now we have increase and improved a lot of aspects in the business. We have introduced a lot of new features and options for travellers with the launch of MedallionClass. With MediallionClass app passengers can put up all their information online before their cruising and it helps in a seamless check-in experience. Once passengers are onboard, they have various experiences and options. One of the newest features is the virtual safety drills. We have also introduced Dine my way feature where passengers can book or reserve tables for dining, this helps us to control number of people in the dining rooms. As our fleet gets back all our vessels will be equipped with MedallionClass capability.”

Way forward

The pandemic has further increased the importance of a travel agent for booking cruise holidays. Cruise agents need to update and be ready to cater to the market once cruise tourism is fully back on track.

 

Kollar, stated, “The real value of having a trusted cruise agent is clearer now than ever. In US and Australia as well travel agents are now moving to become travel advisors as they are specialists. Agents needs to grasp all the opportunities and cruising remains very strong with a lot of offerings. Travel agents should be ready with their knowledge and about the products available as the floodgates have already opened and there will be a lot of queries soon. Be confident, be honest, address and acknowledge the complains and communications. In India one of the most common questions are about misconceptions of cruiselines. We know people are going to travel, we need to educate travellers how cruising is different and more value for money. Cruise is the safest bubble of tourism right now.”

 

 Cruise liners across the globe are looking at India as a homeporting option with the growing demand. Malao, added, “A lot of challenges are being addressed in India now. There are 12-14 international cruise lines operating in India and 2-3 are looking to homeport in India. This industry is growing, and we see a healthy market in the coming times. We now have Cordelia cruise which has started, and we want to make this successful to welcome the world to India. In the near term our endeavor is to welcome cruise lines to come back to India.”

In terms of expedition cruising, travellers should look out for various parameters. Speaking about how to go about selecting the right expedition cruise, Lagerweij, added, “We deliver specific products where one needs a lot of permits and guides need to be high skilled for the desired experience. It is not easy sailing to Antarctica like other cruises. The first criteria while booking an expedition is passengers would check if the company is an IAATO member. Second is to know who the expedition staff are and how experienced are they. Also, one should know the entire itinerary in detail and look at the activities offered.”

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