Set to Sail?

  • “As penetration in India and across Asia is low, the untapped potential is enormous with much room for growth” – Naresh Rawal
  • The growth in numbers will happen once cruise liners start home porting their ships along the Indian coastline and capitalise on growing domestic market.” – Nalini Gupta
  • The rapid expansion of the market isn’t just in numbers, it’s also bringing a wider range of cruise products and itineraries into the spotlight for Indian travellers – Isha Goyal
  • “Despite the small size of the market, destinations as well as cruise operators have been looking eagerly at India” – Tejbir Singh Anand

    With a burgeoning middle class, increasing disposable incomes, and a growing appetite for unique travel experiences, India stands on the cusp of becoming a pivotal market for the cruise industry. As the number of Indian ocean-going passengers continues to rise, international cruise lines have set their sight on this growing market. Although India currently accounts for just 1% of global cruising, industry experts foresee substantial growth potential. The post-pandemic revival of global tourism has further amplified interest in India, with projections suggesting the market could expand tenfold over the next decade. This analysis explores India’s potential to become a crucial source market for international cruise operators, examining current trends, growth projections, and the market’s existing landscape.

    Cruise-liners eyeing the potential of India

    Manoj Singh, Country Head India, Norwegian Cruise Line, mentions, “We see India as a huge potential market for NCL as more Indian travellers are beginning to explore cruise vacations with their family and friends. With its travel-savvy population, rising disposable incomes and a growing interest in cruising – India, as a source market, is poised for significant growth in the coming years and we will continue to look for opportunities to grow our footprint in this market.”

    With same accord, Naresh Rawal, Vice President – Sales & Marketing at Resorts World Cruises (India) mentions that India remains as top three key source markets for Resorts World Cruises, especially for the Fly-Cruise segment, with no signs of slowing down. As penetration in India and across Asia is low, the untapped potential is enormous with much room for growth; and we are highly committed to further grow the Fly-Cruise segment.”

    Speaking on trends, Singh adds, “Whilst we do not have any ships currently sailing from or through India, we have seen an increased interest among Indian travellers for our itineraries that sail to Alaska and Europe, especially the Mediterranean. What is popular among Indians, with their large multi-generational families and groups of friends is NCL’s pioneering concept of ‘Freestyle Cruising’ with no set dining times or dress code, an extensive choice of dining and entertainment and a variety of accommodation options they have the freedom to create and curate their own unique vacation.”

    He further adds that NCL is also seeing a shift towards port-rich itineraries that offer deeper exploration and cultural immersion for passengers. This translates to a preference for more frequent port calls and fewer sea days, something that NCL has adapted all its itineraries to.

    “We have seen a healthy uptick in MICE demand and growth from India in 2023, which is also being reflected in 2024. More are discovering the convenience and cost effectiveness of a MICE event at sea. We are delighted to see this segment flourish. In addition, we are optimistic that the Fly-Cruise segment will continue to grow as we implement more effective campaigns, supported by more resources, as travellers are constantly looking out for unique experiences that is value for money and convenient; and cruises tick all the right boxes”, adds Rawal.

    Analyzing market situation – The representation business perspective

    Nalini Gupta, Managing Director, Lotus Destinations opines that since cruise companies have started homeporting in India, it has resulted in the number of Indian cruise passengers growing by almost 100% yoy. “But since only a few cruise companies homeport in India, Indians still contribute to only 1% of the global cruising numbers, which is very small and insignificant.” According to her, this also indicates a huge untapped opportunity in this segment. “But the big growth in numbers will happen only once cruise liners start home porting their ships along the Indian coastline and capitalise on the growing domestic market.”

    Gupta further shares that international cruise liners are working with the government to try and sort out the tax and other statutory regulations related to homeporting of ships in India and deploying ships undertaking domestic itineraries. “They are also making sure their ships offer Indian food with customised entertainment to make the cruise experience more enjoyable from the Indian perspective. Additionally, they are driving more awareness with Indian travel agents and engaging various marketing channels to educate the Indian traveler.”

    Talking about picked up interest for cruises, Varun Chadha, CEO at TIRUN Travel Marketing states that TIRUN in 2023 surpassed guest volume figures that was achieved in 2019. “We have had a great run in the past few years.Customers are accepting higher prices for flights, hotels, and of course our cruises. and all segments including MICE, friends and family travel, affinity groups, are opting for cruise holidays to destinations around the world”, says Chadha.

    Speaking on the same subject, Isha Goyal, CEO, Stic Travel Group adds, “As more options become available on our shores, we’re seeing a rapid expansion of the market to encompass a diverse mix of travellers with varied interests. This growth isn’t just in numbers—it’s also bringing a wider range of cruise products and itineraries into the spotlight for Indian travellers. Looking ahead to 2024 and beyond, we forecast a notable increase in outbound cruise passengers, with many seeking longer itineraries and more unique experiences.”

    To note, Stic Travel Group is the India representative for international cruiseliners like Holland America Line Cruises, A-ROSA River Cruises, Celestyal Cruises, among others.

    Adding her thoughts, Dipti Adhia, Director, Discover the World mentions about a noticeable increase in interest among Indian travelers for cruise vacations, driven by rising disposable incomes and a growing desire for unique travel experiences. “Additionally, there is a trend towards multigenerational family travel, with cruises offering an ideal environment for family-friendly activities and entertainment. Furthermore, the increased availability of regional cruises and customized itineraries that cater to Indian tastes and preferences”, she adds.

    International cruise liners in India still minimal?

    From a homeporting point of view, while Gupta mentions the work is being undertaken to improve port facilities, Government agencies such as the Customs department, Immigration, CISF over the past few years,  a clear Cruise policy and exemption of taxes needs to be brought out by the Government to enable this sector to flourish in India.

    “Presently, India contributes to approximately 1% of the global cruising numbers, which was estimated at 31.7 million in 2023, as per reports by CLIA. As more cruise companies 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 domestic itineraries, but also other international destinations”, mentions Gupta.

    Further, Goyal adds that the infrastructure readiness, ease of doing business, and the need for more streamlined regulations remain bottlenecks for cruise tourism on Indian shores. “The lack of proper infrastructure and tourism-friendly processes is a big concern at our ports, which have always been designed for shipping, but never altered or adjusted from the lens of tourism. While some efforts have been made to streamline the experience for the current domestic operators, we have a long way to go when comparing the Indian cruise ports to those of neighbouring countries like Singapore, Malaysia and the Gulf countries.”

    Echoing her thoughts, Adhia mentions that the presence remains minimal due to several factors – infrastructure limitations such as insufficient port facilities and amenities, operational cost, taxations, Bureaucratic hurdles etc which pose significant challenges. “Regulatory and logistical hurdles also play a role, making it more complex for cruise lines to establish a strong presence. However, with ongoing investments in port development, Government focus on waterways, increasing marketing efforts and growing interest in diverse travel experiences, the potential for growth in this sector is promising.”

    On-ground market demand & trends

    One of the GSAs for the Resorts World Cruises, ARK Travels’ Managing Director Kishan Biyani stated that the first quarter of 2024 has been a little slow, but from the second quarter there has been an uptick in the ocean cruising market segment. This has grown to about 15-20%, even if the prices have increased by about 140% as compared to last year. “The future that we are looking in 2024 is very positive, the numbers are promising. The corporate segment in the cruising business in Singapore is gone up to 40% as only MICE, rest 60% is all the retail bookings coming up”, mentions Biyani.

    Sharing inputs on similar lines, Tejbir Singh Anand, Managing Director, Holiday Moods Adventures adds, “While the boom in cruise is stemming from India, it has been a very small market for cruise tourism historically. The segment used to appeal only to a small niche market, with most studies putting the market size between 250,000-400,000 passengers a year, which is a much smaller number compared to the outbound travellers from India”.

    According to him, despite the small size of the market, destinations as well as cruise operators have been looking eagerly at India, especially since global tourism revived post-pandemic, mainly for the booming market and the restored international flights to the various European gateways. “There is definitely an upward trajectory especially in the expedition segment and I am very gung ho for the financial year 2024-25. We’re growing on a YOY basis of almost 22% every year”, opines Anand.

    Adding to above, Neeraj Sharma, Director, Cruise Carrot, mentions, “Indian cruise market has the potential to grow 10- fold over the next decade. In 2024 I believe cruise passenger numbers will be double. India has potential to increase cruise passenger traffic from 0.4 million at present to 4 million in future.”

    Mix age groups for cruising, new itineraries: Trends on rise

    “I am seeing a new trend where we have a mix of all ages travelling together, irrespective common interest. I am finding honeymoon couples wanting to experience northern lights driving a snowmobile off Havila Voyages at the onset of their married life; parents with their children inspired to see wildlife in the polar regions on the expedition cruise and sleeping in Snow Hotels on a bed of ice; senior citizens enjoying northern lights while dog reindeer sledding in the Arctic regions while cruising”, adds Anand.

    “MICE undoubtedly is the leader here, where we can’t talk about age groups. When we talk about summer season, particularly Singapore, the age trend that you see is about 30+ going upto 60-65 years of age. About European travelers or people traveling to Alaska or Miami, tends to be about 40 to 55 years of age”, opines Biyani. “When we talk about long itineraries, this segment mostly specializes in retired citizens. Though when we talk about itineraries longer than 4 nights, we are still a growing market only, whereas surpassed 200,000 mark for shorter itineraries. On the weddings area, numbers have been good, probably 9-10 weddings on cruise happening in a year.”

    Sharma also adds, “Earlier before pandemic, average age was 55 + but after pandemic there is no average age group. Mostly all age groups are opting for cruise traveling nowadays. And for my point of view, there is no age limitation while going on cruise vacations because for different age groups. we have different entertainment curated for them to experience onboard.”

    Anand further adds that their new offerings and itineraries resonate very well with the Indian travellers and the retail agents. Swan Hellenic specialises in tours to the Polar regions of Arctic and Antarctica and the rest of the world. According to new data Google shared, searches for Antarctica stand at an all-time high with the recent fascination and the desire to visit the continent. Search volume has been on the rise since last September, spiking over 300% in activity through last month.

    “Interest in Greenland and Iceland are not far behind”, adds Anand. “Wildlife lovers can spot humpbacks and narwhals in the seas and polar bears and musk ox on land. Havila Voyage sailing between Bergen and Kirkenes which are extremely popular for the midnight sun and northern lights experience apart from showcasing the amazing coastline of Norway. Our biggest offering is The Northern Lights, also known as the Aurora Borealis. There is a huge interest for the Northern Lights and we are super busy helping our retail agents understand and promote them. Viking Line also has a fleet of over 6 vessels, including state-of-the-art ships, modest, second-hand car ferries, and Viking Glory. The Stockholm Archipelago are lately trending in the Sweden itineraries now.”

    Sharma mentions, “Now-a-days we do have multiple homeport choice for cruise lover to take cruise, but earlier it was only Singapore, Malaysia. Now it is Singapore, Malaysia, Dubai, India.”

    Biyani also adds that from India, “Singapore has always have been on spotlight for shorter itineraries. But with Dubai coming up on Resorts World One, with shorter itineraries to Oman, is really going to excite people. For sure the kind of entertainment that is being planned, is much different than any other cruiseliner looking at India from a market perspective.”

    To this, Rawal adds that starting from 18 October 2024 – 13 April 2025, travellers from India can explore the Arabian Gulf by embarking on a Fly-Cruise from Dubai to enjoy a series of itineraries to Doha, Sir Bani Yas, Khasab and Muscat.

    Speaking about the itineraries for Indian travelers, Rawal mentions, “We are a homegrown Asian cruise line, we have decades of valuable experience in the cruise and hospitality sector, especially in catering to the needs of different ethnic and religious markets. Indian travellers can take a Fly-Cruise to Singapore and hop on the Genting Dream, which offers the 2 Night Weekend Getaway Cruises; the 2 Night Kuala Lumpur Cruises and the 3 Night Phuket Cruises or Penang-Kuala Lumpur Cruises. As part of our 2nd Anniversary celebration in June, the Resorts World One will homeport in Singapore to offer the 5 Night Vietnam Cruises and the 5 Night Thailand Cruises from 30 May – 9 June 2024”

    NCL’s Singh mentions that the cruise line is significantly expanding our Asian presence offering more ships and choice than ever before with a record three ships offering extended seasons in the region between September 2024 and March 2026 on Norwegian Spirit, Norwegian Sun and Norwegian Sky.

    “This extensive deployment will include 70+ voyages departing from 8 ports and visiting over 40 ports of call providing an unprecedented variety of itineraries for Indian travellers.

    Kuhelika Roy Choudhury