Post success of luxury river cruise Ganga Vilas, international majors like Costa, and some others, are tapping into the segment.

Come November, Costa will start coastal cruise ops in India, along routes in the West Coast. Four other international operators, including an American one, have reached out to the Ministry of Shipping to discuss route feasibility along the Ganges and Brahmaputra, Sarbananda Sonowal, Union Minister for Ports, Shipping and Waterways told businessline.

European major Costa Cruises operates under an Italian flag and is know to provide premium inter-country cruise services with a fleet size of 10 ships. Costa Serena, a Concordia-class ship, will start operations November 4 onwards along Mumbai - Goa - Lakshadweep - Cochin routes. This will be the largest international cruise ship to operate here.

“The Costa Serena is on way to Indian waters. And it will start operations here in November with a capacity of 3800. Meanwhile, some inter-country routes like Chennai - Jaffna are already in operation through other operators like Cordelia,” the Minister said.

Cordelia Cruises, which is operating on the Tamil Nadu - Sri Lanka route, is also active on Mumbai - Lakshadweep and Mumbai - Goa routes. 

“In fact, there is some interest for Sittwe port too. The idea of taking cruises further to Thailand (using India - Myanmar routes) has come up in some discussions too,” Sonowal said.

Sittwe is an India financed port in Myanmar. 

Other Routes

Other operators are said to be exploring routes in the East and North East, like the Haldia - Dibrugarh or Upper Ganges (Kolkata - Varanasi) waterways. 

According to Sonowal, Ganga Vilas - the world’s longest river cruise through 27 river systems in India and Bangladesh- is already booked till 2025, primarily by European tourists.

“The success of Ganga Vilas led to evincing of interest across global cruise operators like Costa. There are at least four more international players who want to work on intra-country (routes within India), river cruises and international routes. Discussions are on,” he said. 

“While there are operators on the West coast, we are looking to push routes in East and the river cruises,” Sonowal added. Guwahati - Jorhat route, passing through Kaziranga National Park, is also under consideration; apart from pushing Kolkata - Varanasi and other heritage tourism spots by connecting them with inland waterways. 

₹35,000 Cr market 

The Ministry’s internal studies have shown riverine and coastal cruise to be ₹35,500 crore market that can be tapped over a 10 year period. The passenger potential is pegged at close to 10 lakh by 2030 and 47 lakh by 2047. 

In 2022-23, some 3.87 lakh people took cruises in India. 

Globally, the river cruise market is pegged at $1.71 billion by 2032 ($1.45 billion in 2022). 

“European nations have tapped into the river cruise market; and it’s time we also use our waterways effectively,” Sonowal said adding that infrastructure build-up is happening. A dedicated cruise terminal is already coming up at Varanasi, with “expected investment being atleast ₹100 crore.”