Cruise shipping is one of the most dynamic and fastest-growing segments of the leisure industry worldwide. The word cruise conjures up images of destinations like the Caribbean, Alaska, Europe etc. While India isn't on the list of destinations, that is now rapidly changing.

  • The potential of cruise tourism

A few years back, India lacked the infrastructure, and the market to build and manage cruise ships. With the Indian economy developing at a steady pace, the growing middle class and increasing disposal incomes, the potential for cruise tourism is yet untapped. As a destination, India with its long and beautiful coastline, meandering rivers, idyllic islands, rich history and culture, is fast emerging as a new marketable product. That aside, cruising provides a wide range of jobs with opportunities for establishing long-term careers.

The government of India realises this potential, and is determined to position India as a global cruise hub with state-of-the-art infrastructure for both ocean and river cruises. Global players too have shown a keen interest in promoting cruise tourism in the country. With the right infrastructure and the adoption of modern technology, India is set to become one of the top cruise destinations in the world

India aims to increase cruise passenger traffic from 0.4 Mn at present to approx. 4 Mn by 2030. The economic potential of cruise tourism is expected to go up from US $ 110 Mn to US $ 5.5 Bn in the years to come.

Passengers playing shuffleboard and enjoying a swim on the ship's deck

  • A history of cruise tourism

To understand how cruising evolved, it is important to know that it was in the mid 1800s, that ships began ferrying passengers. British India Steam Navigation Company called (BI) was formed in 1856 as the Calcutta and Burmah Steam Navigation Company. The company was formed out of Mackinnon, Mackenzie & Co, a trading partnership of the Scots William Mackinnon and Robert Mackenzie, that was used to carry mail between Calcutta and Rangoon. BI became British India SN Co. in 1862, under Lord Inchcape (James Lyle Mackay) who become the chairman in 1913. Later, the company became part of the P&O group of companies in 1914 through a complex amalgamation, but continued with its own identity and organisation for nearly 60 years until 1972, when it was entirely absorbed into P&O.

File photo of the S S Viceroy of India

As one of the largest shipowners of all time, the company owned more than 500 ships and managed 150 more for other owners. The company ran services from India to Ceylon, Bay of Bengal, Singapore, Malaysia, Java, Thailand, Japan, the Persian Gulf, East Africa and South Africa. BI had a long history of service to British and Indian governments, through trooping and other military contracts. Some of the company’s better known passenger ships included Rajula, Dunera, Scindia, Sirdhana, Leicestershire, Dwarka, the sister ships Kampala and Karanja, Kenya and Uganda, and Dara, which was sunk by a terrorist bomb in 1961.

Green shoots of cruising began to emerge in the late 1920s. P&O Steam Navigation Co, based in Glasgow, United Kingdom, ordered and constructed the passenger vessel SS Viceroy of India in 1927. Originally intended to be christened, the Taj Mahal, she was launched as the Viceroy of India on 15th September 1928 by Dorothy, Countess of Halifax, the wife of the Viceroy of India.

SuperStar Libra, the first cruise ship to be based in India

The Viceroy of India was handed over to P&O on 7th March 1929 and made her maiden voyage on the Indian mail route. The passenger ship was also suited for leisure cruises, which she made every year until the outbreak of World War II in September 1939. In February 1930, the ship was berthed in Bombay when the 6,070 Great British India Line ship Warfield collided with her. The collision pushed the liner against a dockside crane, which she demolished but escaped serious damage herself.

In September 1932, the Viceroy of India set a new record time between London and Bombay – 17 days, 1 hour, 42 minutes.

On 5th September 1935 the Cunard White Star liner Doric and the Chargeurs Réunis cargo steamship Formigny collided off Cape Finisterre. The Doric stayed afloat, but her 736 passengers were transferred to other ships, including 241 transferred to the Viceroy of India, as a precaution.

  • Cruising - A global perspective

Global cruise tourism enjoyed an increase of about 28.5 Mn passengers in the year 2018 and it stood at 30 Mn passengers in the year 2019.

Alternative cruise destinations, have also been experiencing significant growth, and cruise companies are always looking for new itineraries. Cruise operators across the world are experiencing stiff competition and looking for alternative and more exciting destinations. Other than the major and regular ports in India which receive cruise ships - Mumbai, Goa, New Mangalore, Kochi and Chennai, we have alternate ports like Diu, Porbandar, Port Blair, islands in the Lakshadweep Island, Vishakapatnam, Gopalpur which offer tremendous potential for cruise tourism.

  • Cruising sets sail in India

Passenger volume in India for the year 2018 was around 221,000 and it increased up to 313,000 in the year 2019 and decreased to 46,000 in the year 2020.

The launch of SuperStar Libra, the first cruise ship to be based in the country, by Star Cruises Asia in September 2005, led to a rapid growth in cruise holidays by Indians and foreign tourists. The ship called at Mumbai, Goa and Kadmat Island (Lakshadweep). This was a fairly new concept because up until then, Indians went on cruises in the far eastern countries, the US or European countries, as facilities were not available in India. However, the cruise line ceased operations in India in 2007 due to unfavourable regulatory and fiscal conditions.

In 2018, India's first domestic cruise liner, MV Angriya a small ship with a capacity of 400 passengers began voyages on the Mumbai-Goa sea route.

  • Government initiatives to promote the industry

The Ministry of Tourism recognises cruise tourism, as a niche product. In order to promote India as a 365 day destination, steps taken to promote cruise tourism include developing appropriate infrastructure for handling cruise vessels and facilitating ease of passenger movement.

The five major ports in the country handling cruise ships - Mumbai Port Trust, Mormugao Port Trust, New Mangalore Port Trust, Cochin Port Trust and Chennai Port Trust are being developed to attract cruise ships with dedicated terminals and other related infrastructure for berthing of vessels and embarking and disembarking of passengers.

In order to promote cruise tourism, the government offered to pay 25 percent of the project cost for the development of cruise terminals. The Mormugao Port Trust, Goa, is to build an international cruise terminal within three years and Chennai has already developed a terminus which can accommodate 5,000 people. To make short cruise trips from India feasible, the Indian government has relaxed the 'cabotage law', which mandates cruise ships operating along the Indian coastline, to visit international ports.

The Ministry of Shipping has also rationalised tariffs applicable for cruise vessels. This has had an immediate reduction in port charges ranging from 60 to 70 percent, offering substantial relief to the cruise industry in India, in line with the government policy to support the economy, during COVID-19.

State-of-art cruise terminal - The Ballard Pier

  • Cruising post the pandemic

There was a sudden cessation of cruise calls across the world, when the pandemic hit in early December 2020. The last port call in India was from 7th to 9th March 2020. Between March and August 2020, J. M. Baxi & Co was instrumental in repatriating over 18,000 Indian crew from all over the world by sea and air.

An Indian cruise line company, Cordelia Cruises, commenced domestic operations on the West coast of India in September 2021. Being home ported at Mumbai, voyages included calls to Goa, Cochin, Lakshadweep Islands and Diu with different itineraries. The ship ran at over 70 percent capacity in 2021 – 22 demonstrating the cruising appetite of Indian travellers. According to a survey by Hansa Research on behalf of the Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL), in October 2022, around 78 percent of respondents in a survey said that their vacation goal was to travel to create memories with their loved ones, while 65 percent said they travel to visit different places and experience something new. During the south-east monsoons between June and September, a cruise line shifted operations to the East coast of the country for the first time in the history of cruising in India, and did so successfully.

Since then, the number of cruise calls have started to increase significantly. India will be host to over 85 international calls and 270 domestic calls in 2022 – 23. Some international cruise lines like Viking Cruises and Crystal Cruises have introduced India itineraries for the very first time.

  • India’s first international cruise terminal

The state-of-the-art Mumbai International Cruise Terminal, is being constructed at the BPX berth of Indira Dock and is expected to be fully commissioned by July 2024. J M Baxi Ports & Logistics is the first private company in India to have been awarded the concession to build and operate a cruise terminal in India for the next 30 years. Named the Ballard Pier - Experience Center, the new cruise terminal will be a four storied structure having a total built up area of approx. 415,000 sq. feet.

The building will be accessible to both cruise passengers and the general public. The aim is to create an experiential cruise and retail landmark at a unique water-front destination. It is being designed as a cruise terminal with a mega sized retail and experience centre, taking advantage of the connectivity to the rest of the city.

The ground and first floors of the building are earmarked for cruise operations during the cruise season (typically from mid-September to April end) while the two upper floors and the roof top have been earmarked as a commercial space for food, beverage and retail outlets of exclusive brands, along with entertainment and gaming areas. The floor space will be utilised for cultural shows, conventions, exhibitions and private functions during the non-cruise season.

Having an over 75 percent market share of cruise ship calls in India, the J M Baxi group has been aggressively promoting the terminal, by welcoming existing and new cruise lines to collaborate at various international and Indian forums like the SeaTrade Global in Miami in May, Seatrade Cruise Mediterranean at Malaga in September and the 1st Incredible India International Cruise Conference in May 2022. With India’s cruising industry ready to take off, the teams at J M Baxi will continue to play a pivotal role in shaping how Indians holiday, in the years to come.