Homegrown Cordelia Cruises is riding on new opportunities in the industry, fuelled by the government’s backing. The company has witnessed multi-fold growth and plans to add two new ships by next year’s end, buoyed by a near-perfect 97 per cent occupancy rate that’s caught the attention of global cruise giants. Jurgen Bailom, head of Cordelia’s parent company, Waterways Leisure Tourism, said the company plans longer cruises to Asian, Australian, and East African destinations.

Sharing details with businessline, Bailom said in fiscal year 2024, Cordelia surpassed 100 sailings. “We offered short cruises twice a week, carrying over 500,000 passengers. This is a massive jump for us. Throughout these sailings, our occupancy rate hovered around 97 per cent for each trip,” he said.

The 2022-2023 season saw India welcoming over 227 cruise ship calls and nearly 4,72,000 passengers. Mumbai alone expects 28 international arrivals this season, starting November 2, 2023. Additionally, Cordelia’s domestic ship, the Empress, will make 80 port calls in India during 2023-24, a staggering 170 per cent increase, compared to the previous year.

Bailom elaborated on Cordelia’s diverse clientele. “Families and individual travellers make up 65 per cent, but we’ve seen a surge in the Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, and Exhibitions (MICE) segment. We’ve even had requests for on-board weddings and recently hosted a fashion show on-board.”

This growth has spurred Cordelia’s expansion, with one new ship by the fiscal year’s end, followed by another in 2025. Its strategy is two-fold: increasing frequencies on existing routes, and introducing new domestic and international itineraries.

“Our most popular destinations are Goa, Kochi, and Lakshadweep. Given the strong demand for Lakshadweep, we’ll work with the government to explore additional islands accessible by cruise ship. We’ll also add routes from Mumbai and Kochi to Colombo, Maldives, Dubai and Singapore, along with itineraries from Chennai to Sri Lanka, Visakhapatnam, and Pondicherry. Internationally, we’ll introduce month-long cruises to Australia, Seychelles, and parts of Europe,” he said.

Backing this is Rajeev Kale, President & Country Head for Holidays, MICE, and Visa at Thomas Cook (India) Ltd. “We’re seeing a significant rise in cruise bookings during India’s peak season, with bookings for the upcoming summer already up by 22-25 per cent year-over-year. The popularity is evident – our free 3-night Costa cruise with select European tours is sold out,” he said. Notably, there’s growing interest in premium cruises to Antarctica and the Northern Lights, priced between ₹3.5 - 8 lakh.

The global river cruise market is expected to reach $1.71 billion by 2032, reflecting steady growth. The Tourism Ministry is optimistic that the cruise tourism market would be worth ₹35,500 crore by 2041, accommodating around 4 million passengers.

Discussing the growth potential, Bailom acknowledged the need for infrastructure development. “Unlike international markets where multiple large ships dock at a port, India isn’t there yet. Existing ports require upgrades, and others need to become operational. These ports were originally built for cargo, so passenger-friendly adaptations are necessary.”

India plans to invest heavily in developing river cruise tourism, leveraging inland waterways as economic drivers. By enhancing existing routes, the goal is to significantly increase overnight cruise tourism traffic by 2047. Local cruise tourism on the National Waterways is also targeted for substantial growth.