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Cruising today is on the wish list of many Indian travellers: Nalini Gupta & Vasundhara Gupta, Costa Cruise India

The mother daughter duo spoke about the changing landscape of cruise industry and how the luxury travel market in India is gaining popularity by the day.

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On the occasion of Mother’s Day, EE spoke to Nalini Gupta, Head of Costa Cruise India & Vasundhara Gupta, Business Development & Marketing Manager, Lotus Destinations, GSA Costa Cruise India spoke about the changing landscape of cruise industry and how the luxury travel market in India is gaining popularity by the day.

Excerpts:

Can you tell us about your journey so far and how have you retained your positioning in this market?

We provide cruises across the globe from Europe, Dubai, Singapore, South America, however, we were the first cruise liner to start cruises from Mumbai to Maldives in 2016. We are coming back for the 4th consistent season for India home-porting in November 2019 with a larger vessel Costa Victoria. We have made cruising more accessible for the Indian traveler. To encourage families to travel together, Costa offers kids below 18 years cruise free policy on a sharing cabin, whereby kids have to pay only port taxes and minimal gratuities. 

Also, in November 2019, Costa Smeralda will be launched which is going to be the very first LNG furled ship, a major environmental revolution in the cruising industry. 

In terms of the Indian perspective, we also make sure while the cruise provides an international experience onboard, there is customisations to meet the unique needs of the Indian market. Lastly we try and always exceed expectations of clients onboard, as word of mouth plays a very major role in India. 

What kind of transformation are we witnessing in the cruising landscape in India?

Cruising today is on the wish list of many Indian travellers. While earlier it was perceived to be a holiday only for the rich and elite, today it is very affordable holiday and the goal is to reach the middle-class Indian. Cruising is growing aggressively within India and while cruise holidays close to home are the most popular, like Singapore, Mumbai, Cochin, Maldives, there is a growing niche that is even traveling to Europe, Alaska, Bahamas and even the Antarctica region. 

With the destination wedding market in India growing aggressively and estimated to reach Rs 45,000 crore by 2020, how are you looking to leverage this opportunity?

Over the last few years, not only has the cruise product been identified as a strong travel option, but has become very popular with groups, especially weddings, as wedding planners and couples have discovered that weddings onboard a cruise can be one of the most hassle free, unique and cost-effective options. 

We have always positioned ourselves as a cruise liner with modern ships, offering itineraries across the globe i.e. Mumbai, Singapore, Barcelona, Savona (Milan), Stockholm & Dubai, but also keeping in mind customisations of Indian food and rituals. In 2017, Costa Cruise celebrated the largest Indian wedding ever at sea, whereby Costa Fascinosa, a 3,800-guest capacity, was chartered exclusively for four nights in the Mediterranean seas. Even more recently, being the only cruise liner to provide a cruise from Mumbai to Cochin, witnessed a Marwari wedding of 250 guests. The main aim is to provide an all-inclusive wedding package of accommodation, entertainment activities to keep guests and kids engaged, multiple venue options that can even accommodate 1000 guests and unlimited beverage packages. 

We are also witnessing growth in MICE events on cruise liners, how is this trend shaping up in India?

The main reason for the growth in MICE numbers on a cruise is the ease of handling groups onboard a cruise vis a vis land, as cruise is an all-inclusive destination. Most of the MICE groups, combine work and leisure activities on the ship. Since, everything is available on the ship, from meeting venues and award ceremonies in our theatre, to the leisure activities in the various lounges, pool decks and bars on the ship. The ease of having everything at one place, enhances not only the attendance in terms of the meetings onboard, but gives travelers the flexibility to do whatever they choose to do in the evening. 

The latest or general trends are that MICE groups look for short sailings and majority also want something close to home. Keeping this in mind, our 03 Nights itineraries from Mumbai to Cochin & Cochin to Maldives are very popular with the MICE segment, since they are not only close to home, but also visa free. However, as mentioned above we are also seeing corporates explore 7 nights itineraries on the Mediterranean and North Europe routes. We try and work very closely with corporates along with their respective travel agents. We focus a lot on awareness of the opportunity of MICE @ Sea product, as many corporates and travel agents are still not convinced and aware of the same. Other than awareness, we also pay keen attention to making sure that we are able to customise and meet the specific requirements of the corporate. 

As of now, most corporates come back to us for either more groups on a same cruised itinerary or other sailings on our network, since we always have exceeded their expectations. 

What would you call the three big challenges facing this industry?

The challenges faced currently for cruises departing outside the country are mainly related to visa issues. With visa rejections coming in last minute, many times guests have to cancel their cabins, which become difficult for cruise liners to sell last minute. Also, Indian travelers are last minute bookers, which sometimes lead to difficulty in availability of cabins, which are firmed by other markers well in advance. 

From a homeporting point of view, while we saw a improvement in port facilities and a better understanding of this sector from the other Government agencies such as the Customs department, Immigration, CISF over the initial season, a clear cruise policy and exemption of taxes needs to be brought out by the Government to enable this sector to flourish in India and gain its rightful place in the world.

Where does India stand globally in terms of destination market share?

Since India has the 3rd largest coastline in the world, Indians have a natural affinity towards the sea and activities around it and the Indian traveler is beginning to evaluate a cruise as a perfect holiday. They are now either combining a cruise holiday with their land package or just taking a Fly+Cruise package. 

However, even with the growing numbers, the market size of Indian cruisers is estimated at around only 180,000 which is a small drop in the large ocean of outbound Indian travellers and global cruise numbers. Presently India contributes to not even 1% of the global cruising numbers, which are estimated to reach 30 million in 2019, as per reports by CLIA. 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.



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