Setting sail from India

Written by Suman Tarafdar | Updated: Nov 30 2009, 03:53am hrs
Vacationing in India this winter has an added dimension. For the first time, an ocean cruise route will take off with an Indian port, Kochi as its homeport. Louis Cruises luxury vessel MV Aquamarine will commence its services from December 2 for cruises in the Indian Ocean, says Oneil Khosa, MD and CEO of Louis Cruises, announcing the launch of the season in the capital on Saturday. There will be three sailings in a weekKochi-Maldives (4D/3N), Kochi-Colombo (4D/3N) and Kochi High Seas (2D/1N). The season for the first year will last till April 25.

Pointing out that she was supportive of all such ventures, Minster of Tourism, Kumari Selja says India has great opportunity for cruise tourism, and we should develop this. Admitting that the Indian ports were geared more for cargo than passenger ships, she said the Kochi port had been given financial assistance to upgrade. She also said any other port that wanted to upgrade should approach the ministry, mentioning Goa and Mumbai ports as possible candidates.

The ship will ply under Greek Flag laws and the second season will start in October 2010, says Khosa. The possibility of new routes and destinations, as well as more ships depends on the performance and feedback from the first season, he said. He however clarifies that ports like Mumbai, nine nights from Maldives will be less suitable for cruises than Kochi, which he describes as the best positioned to take advantage of its location. Khosa admitted to logistical problems that still exist, but were being sorted out.

India is estimated to have a negligible share in the global cruise industry, though tourism experts estimate a growth of 10-12% annually for the sector in India.

To cater to an Indian clientele, a number of steps have been taken. The usual basketball courts have been replaced by cricket facilitiestwo bowling machines and batting wickets. The food is Indian, and vegetarians get far more options than cruises around the world usually offer. Targets for the cruises include, families, corporate trips, religious groups, even weddings on board and film shoots, said Vijay Puthran, Country Head, sales and marketing. There is also a spa, three restaurants, a swimming pool, duty-free shops, a lounge where films including Bollywood fare will be screened. These cruises are priced between Rs 5,000 and Rs 17,500 per night. Indians going on just a one night trip, the Cruise to Nowhere, will require a valid identification. Those opting to go to Maldives and Sri Lanka will get 23 hours in Maldives and 25 in Colombo.

Louis Cruises India, a subsidiary of Louis Cruise Lines, has leased Kuda Bandos Island in Maldives to berth its ship. It has signed MoUs with Kerala Tourism Board as well tourism authorities in Sri Lanka and Maldives.