Rajkamal Rao

Time to go on a cruise

Rajkamal Rao | Updated on August 06, 2019

India must fast-track the growth of this industry

India has over 4,500 miles of coastline from Gujarat in the west to the Andaman Islands in the east. Many of the beaches here are among the world’s most pristine and beautiful, close to coves, atolls, and lagoons. India also boasts 13 well-developed ports dotting the entire length of the peninsula.

Why, then, is the global cruise industry practically absent from calling on India’s ports? A quick check on Vacationstogo.com, the world’s largest cruise agency, shows that of the nearly 3,500 cruises available for sale worldwide in September this year, there’s not a single cruise line offering India as a destination. Even the origin-business is under-developed. Over the next 18 months, there are only about 100 cruises which involve a ship originating from Mumbai. Even then, most are for destinations abroad, such as Male, Phuket, Savona, Singapore or Cape Town.

The WTTC says that worldwide, the travel industry supports one in 10 jobs (319 million) and generates 10.4 per cent ($8.8 trillion) of the world’s GDP. India’s economic planners have done virtually nothing to develop the country’s cruise infrastructure. A robust cruise industry can result in lakhs of new jobs. A crucial impediment to attracting foreign tourists is that it takes significant investments of capital and labour. Luxury hotels, hassle-free and well-connected airports, and a world-class ground transportation network are essential ingredients. Think Switzerland or Japan.

The cruise business is a big saviour. Cruise line passengers already experience 5-star comforts aboard the ships, so India needs to spend nothing to build new hotel infrastructure onshore. Ships generally dock at ports of call at 7 am and depart by 6 pm, so, tourists have to be cared for during daytime hours only. The port city does not have to invest additional funds in developing world-class streets that are well-paved and lit. Tourists will be either engaged in short shore excursions to explore India’s wild, rugged and natural locations bordering the coastline or will be lazing on beaches, reached by private ground transportation from nearby ports.

Cruise line destinations worldwide such as Ketchikan, Bari, Balboa, and Itajai are in remote locations in their countries. The night before the scheduled arrival of a boat, local merchants get ready for the impending mayhem. When the ship docks, these ghost towns transform into shopping meccas as merchants sell everything from crafts, paintings, and gift shop souvenirs, to adventure services, such as dirt bikes, jet-skis, and banana boat rentals, tour excursions, and helicopter rides. Profit margins are high, but the tourists rarely mind. Sales taxes bring in much-needed revenue for local communities.

Immigrants perform practically every job on a modern cruise ship. Cooks, room attendants, waiters, bartenders, cleaners, security personnel, even technical staff such as mechanics and electricians, are all drawn from countries such as India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. The Indian government could mandate that cruise lines calling on multiple Indian ports must hire a majority of workers from India. These jobs are well paid by Indian standards — about $1,200 a month — and would bring in new collections to the ever-hungry I-T department.

NITI Aayog should immediately consider developing the domestic cruise industry. Such a step can fundamentally transform India’s travel sector and bring in much-needed tourism revenue and foreign exchange. It can also expose many Indian vacationers to places that they may never visit otherwise. It’s a win-win all around.

The writer is Managing Director, Rao Advisors LLC, US

Published on August 06, 2019

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