Cruise tourism is one of the most dynamic and fastest growing components of the leisure industry worldwide. The annual industry passenger capacity, world over, is expected to grow from an estimated 26.7 million passengers in 2018 to around 40 million by 2027, registering an increase of 48 per cent over the next ten years.

The new, national level, multi-member body, India Cruise Lines Association (INCLA), aims to catalyze the growth of the sector, not only in India but even in the global market

In Asia, China has been the front runner as the main source country for driving passenger growth, adding 1 million passengers in 2016 and growing at a record 76 per cent cumulative average growth rate (CAGR) in the current year.

India today, has a very small share of the world cruise tourism market having registered 1.9 lakh cruise travellers in the year 2016. However, with over 7500 km long coast line, India has tremendous potential to attract international cruise tourists.

With the country’s economy developing at a high rate and steady pace, domestic travellers are also interested in going on cruises. The inland waterways of India also offer enormous scope to develop cruise tourism for domestic and international travellers.

Cruise travel, lately, has also emerged as the fastest growing outbound vertical in India. There has been a growing interest for sailing from Singapore and Dubai among Indian cruise travellers. But the compulsion of travelling to these foreign locations adds extra expenditure for them and is a huge loss of revenue to the Government.

Although a cruise shipping policy was announced by the Minister of Shipping to promote India as an attractive cruise tourism destination, the real thrust to develop this sector came when a Task Force was constituted by the Union Government in 2016, with Secretary, Ministry of Tourism as Chairman and Secretary, Ministry of Shipping as Co-Chairman. The Task Force has representatives from the sea ports, Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of External Affairs, Customs Department, CISF and the coastal states. The Task Force has made the following important achievements so far:

  • Formulation of Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) to be followed by various government agencies for handling of cruise ships
  • Review of SOPs and updating them into SOP version 2.0
  • Appointment of a global consultant for preparing action plan and detailed roadmap for development of cruise tourism in India, and
  • Acceptance of the consultant’s report and decision to engage a Project Management Consultant to monitor its implementation
  • Simultaneously, Ministry of Shipping and Ministry of Tourism have initiated a slew of reforms on the proposals of the Task Force and the recommendations of the global consultant. They include:

1) Development of dedicated cruise terminals and other related infrastructure for berthing of cruise vessels and embarking and disembarking of cruise passengers, at five major ports namely Mumbai, Mormugao, New Mangalore, Kochi and Chennai
2) Drawing up an action plan for providing a customer-friendly and hassle-free logistics process for the stakeholders of the cruise tourism industry by simplifying rules and procedures for cruise port operations
3) Setting up a Single Window System for all pre-cruise requirements of operators like entry of vehicles, personnel and guides
4) Developing an enabling ecosystem necessary to promote and sustain cruise shipping in India, and
5) Initiating talks with the top international cruise liners, inviting them to make India a home port for their vessels

The policy initiatives and reforms by the Union Government have instilled tremendous energy and optimism amongst the private stakeholders of the cruise tourism industry. Costa Neo Classica, a luxury cruise liner has started Mumbai-Maldives sailing for the past two seasons, A larger number of ships are calling at Indian ports. The announcement by the Essel Group, an Indian corporate giant to make an entry in this sector is likely to trigger similar reactions from other corporate entities in India and abroad. The industry feels that once sea ports in India get the infrastructure and facilities similar to those at airports, cruise tourism will surely take off and in few years, India will have a different seascape.

The formation of India Cruise Lines Association (INCLA), a new industry body, has come at the most appropriate time. This national level, multi-member body aims to catalyze the growth of the sector, not only in India but even in the global market. It will bring together all stakeholders on a common platform, with a vision to create a road map for development of cruise sector in the country.

INCLA, that includes Central and State Government officials, ex-bureaucrats, international cruise liners and tourism representatives as its executive members, will engage with the Governments, port authorities and other stakeholders to materialise the huge potential India has in the cruise tourism sector. INCLA, during its launch at the Global Cruise Conclave at Mumbai has set the ball rolling by submitting the ‘White Paper’ to the Union Minister of Shipping, suggesting necessary reforms in policy, tax and regulatory laws. The key reforms suggested in the white paper include:

  • Allowing foreign-flagged cruise ships to be allowed to call at Indian ports without obtaining license from Director General of Shipping
  • An adequate budget to be sanctioned towards establishment and development of port and other facilities as per international standards
  • Immigration regulation to be reviewed and visa cost for cruise passengers to be reduced
  • Custom laws and regulations to be revisited to ensure that declaration of Inventory and Stocks and their sealing is waived for the Indian cruise industry
  • Non-resident seafarers should not be subject to income tax as a consequence of being employed on-board qualifying ships, and
  • Rational Tax Structure under the Goods and Services Tax

The aforesaid suggestions, seem reasonable, timely and necessary to bring in price competitiveness, ease of business and also usher in a more cruise-tourism friendly perception of India before the international cruise industry. It is time that age-old laws and regulations governing cruise shipping are rationalised and cruise travelling is made as seamless as possible. In this age of technology, there can be no room for delay and discomfort. In the present world of tourism, the ease of access, travel and doing business are of paramount importance.

The Union Government has time and again, expressed its commitment, both in words and actions, to catapult cruise tourism in India to a higher orbit. The cruise industry is equally determined to extend support to the Government. Cruise tourism is like a ‘Gold Mine’ for Indian tourism. Only a fraction of the mine has been extracted so far. The Union Government, State Governments, the newly-formed INCLA and the cruise industry will have to go the ‘extra mile’ to harness the untapped potential of cruise tourism in India.

Cruise Tourism is like a ‘Gold Mine’ for India tourism. Only a fraction has been extracted so far. The Union Government, the State Governments, INCLA and the cruise industry will have to go the ‘extra mile’ to harness its untapped potential in India

Categories: Opinions