The consumer perception of cruising as a safe holiday option is steadily growing in India, buoyed by a greater desire among the populace to sail internationally as the vaccination progress gets underway in the country and as more cruise lines make progressive safe and successful restarts to their operations around the globe.
At the inaugural CruiseWorld India, which was organised by Travel Weekly Asia in partnership with the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) on 6 April, the discussions and live polls conducted during the virtual event indicated a strong desire and confidence level among the Indian trade to promote and sell cruising again.
Rajeev Kale, president & country head - holidays, MICE, visa services at Thomas Cook India, said India's "vaccine programme will make a huge difference" because priorities of travellers have now shifted to "safety, hygiene and a more secure environment".
Furthermore, the high level of safety and hygiene preparedness that reputed cruise brands such as Genting Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean International have demonstrated post Covid is a strong driver of confidence in cruising for Indian travellers.
Pradeep Saboo, chairman & managing partner at Guideline Travels, likened cruises, with their amount of sanitisation protocols implemented, to a "Covid-free cruise bubble with a rarest chance of contracting Covid".
Smaller groups, longer duration
But when borders reopen and Indian travellers are able to cruise internationally, agents believe that consumers are likely to keep to smaller groups of friends and families that they know well.
Half of the agents polled during CruiseWorld India expected families with kids (50%) to be the first segment of leisure travellers to make a return to cruising, followed by couples (25%), groups of friends (19%) and multi-generational groups (6%).
With travellers more inclined to opt for more intimate and less hurried itineraries, Thomas Cook India's Kale pointed out that for agents the real potential of the India cruise market lies in the development of attractive cruise packages with land components.
"[Indian travellers] don’t want to be on a cruise for seven days, have drinks and lie low," he explained. "They want to explore cities, so if cruise companies can do shore excursions in a bubble environment that’ll give confidence to our cruisers and for them to extend a minimum of two to three nights.
"If they are going to take a bit of a small risk in travelling, that reward of shopping, different experiences and cuisine which Singapore offers — they will definitely want to make the best of that risk," he added.
Coffee chat with speakers at CruiseWorld India: (clockwise, from top left) Travel Weekly Asia's Xinyi Liang-Pholsena, Thomas Cook India's Rajeev Kale, and Singapore Tourism Board's Raymond Lim.
Post-Covid, Indian agents expect Singapore to be the "first choice" for the Indian market when it comes to cruising.
While travellers have flocked to Maldives, which has reopened its borders, Just Holidays' founder & managing director Sanjay Kothari said it was not a 100% accurate representation of the outbound travel demand from India.
"Yes, people have gone to Maldives — because they didn’t have [many] options. Indian clients trust Singapore — and the cruises that sail from Singapore. No other destinations can match the kind of fun that cruises deliver at [a similar price point], so, yes, we are optimistic," he remarked.
Singapore's edge as a safe cruise hub
Apart from its geographical proximity, Singapore's track record in safety remains a strong drawcard for the Indian market.
Prior to the pandemic, India was not just its third largest source market for Singapore, but also the top market for cruising. The Lion City recorded 1.42 million visitors from India in 2019.
Polls conducted by STB's regional director for India, Middle East & South Asia G B Srithar revealed that once Singapore reopens borders to international travellers, 42% of agents believe that Indian travellers will return to cruise immediately, while nearly half (47%) say bookings will happen within three to six months.
"This is an open call to chart a pathway to recovery... we need to put the consumer back into the front of the universe, because without the consumer we don’t exist," he urged.
Singapore's image as a safe cruise destination is bolstered by numbers, as over 120,000 Singapore residents have already sailed on 90 sailings with Royal Caribbean's Quantum of the Seas and Genting Cruise Line's World Dream since late last year, Srithar added.
During the webinar, STB's New Delhi-based area director for India Raymond Lim, also directed agents' attention to the Cruise Development Fund (CDF), a financial grant to support the development and marketing of cruise packages sailing out of Singapore.
"I’m very sure CDF will give that shot of confidence to agents actively pushing cruising out of Singapore," added Lim, further highlighting that STB has increased support of the fund from 50% to 60% in qualifying costs.