Sudha S Namboothiry writes: Kerala, the “God’s Own country,” is all set to make its mark in world Cruise map as Louis Cruises Ship MV Aquamarine began its maiden voyage from homeport in India, Cochin on December 2, 2009 to Maldives. It is the first cruise liner to call international ports from India. Now onwards Indian travellers will get to enjoy the luxuries of world class cruising on the Indian Ocean. Cochin had been hosting a growing number of cruise ships in the past years and last year’s Volvo Ocean Race stop over had made its entry on the global yachting map.
Inaugurating the launch on December 1, 2009 at Cochin, Union Minister for Tourism, Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation Kumari Selja said this will pave way to a new era of cruise tourism in the country offering excellent Indo-European hospitality to Indian and International tourists. Cruise tourism, which has tremendous growth potential, was one area in which the country was lagging behind, she said. In order to make Cochin port a major port for cruise tourism the Tourism Ministry will extend the support as it had done to improve tourism infrastructure especially during the conduct of the recent Volvo Ocean race.
MV Aquamarine is owned by Louis Cruises India, a subsidiary of Louis Cruises-5th largest cruise operators in the world. The Liner will homeport in Kochi from December 2009 to April 2010 and will operate cruise itineraries thrice a week from Cochin in the India-Maldives-Colombo triangle. Kerala Tourism has tied up with the company to market and promote cruise tourism from Kochi. Around 60,000 Indian tourists are expected to cruise in the liner this season. The liner has a capacity to carry 1,200 passengers offering Kochi-Maldives-Kochi and Kochi-Colombo-Kochi routes in addition to a one night high sea-sailing itinerary. Package starts from Rs.5000 per person per day for a three –night tour package. Besides 525 spacious state rooms and suites, all above sea level, several restaurants, a swimming pool, fitness centre, massage/sauna facilities, casino and duty free shopping are all available onboard. The vessel has also been modified to include a cricket pitch-giving Indian travelers a new experience of playing cricket on the high sea. Food and entertainment on board also include Indian taste. The seven deck ship spans 531 ft in length,83 ft in breadth and has 4 elevators. With a gross tonnage of 25,611 it will cruise the Indian Ocean at 17 knots.
According to the Executive Director, Louis Group, the company’s decision to expand its operations in India was to take advantage of the rising Indian tourism market. Aim at reaching out to a broad target segment in India including families, honeymooners, and the corporate sector.
As per the UN World Tourism Organisation Report on world wide ‘cruise shipping activities’, in the year 2000 cruise demand reached almost 10 million trips with North America accounting for almost two-third of world’s demand. This gives an indication of the enormous potential for growth and expansion ensuring promising future for cruise. In order to get an overview of Cruise Tourism, the Ministry of Tourism commissioned Crisil Infrastructure Advisory to do a study on ‘Cruise Tourism Potential and Strategy’ According to the report published in December 2005 Cruise Tourism Potential in India revolves around the basic fact that it is an enchanting, exotic, historic and beautiful destinations.
No wonder Cochin Port, an all weather Port, strategically located on the East-West trade route, only 10 nautical miles away from direct sea route to Australia and Far East and Europe with number of cruise vessels calling and post Volvo Race was considered as ideal home port for MV Aquamarine. According to Chairman, Cochin Port Trust, Cochin Port endeavored to become the first Indian Port geared up to the comprehensive requirements of the cruise vessels and travelers. The Port offered host of amenities to cater to cruise vessels like “walk in” berthing, sufficient draft, bunkering services, concessional tariff, a “single window service” for Customs, Immigration and Port Health clearance. The aim is to become major cruise destination on the East-West Sea Trade Route from Europe to Australia offering services of comparable international standards.
If domestic tourists and the visitors get the feel of cruise shipping, days are not far when many more Indian ports like Tuticorin, Goa and Mumbai would become the homeports. But that would come later, as of now, Cochin basks in the glory of the first non-European base for Louis’s twelve-strong fleet. With the tourist season picking up, the expectation is running high that more tourists would test the waters for world class cruise experience.