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And now, finally in India

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And now, finally in India

The cruise market looks to expand and make itself more accessible with the launch of Star Cruises in India.

Star Cruises, the popular Malaysia-based cruise company, is starting operations from India from September this year, the first cruise company to do so.

Cruising is becoming a popular holiday option for the growing segment of Indian tourists who have grown tired of the well-worn Singapore/Switzerland/London tourist track. So far though, only international cruise companies have been represented here: the likes of Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises, Princess Cruises, Island Cruises, and, from early this year, the luxury cruise Silversea.

These cruises are all long-haul and sail to places such as the Caribbean, the Norwegian fjords and the Meditteranean islands, and are priced accordingly, but with the entry of Star Cruises, the market may suddenly have become much more accessible — in terms of price as well as time.

From 2nd October 2005 to 30th April 2006 (the ship will only do showcase cruises from September to October this year), the luxury liner SuperStar Libra (a 42,000 ton ship with 740 cabins and a passenger capacity of 1,480), will sail from Mumbai to, according to the cruise you pick, Lakshadweep, Goa or simply around the Indian Ocean near Mumbai.

A four-night cruise, departing every Sunday from Mumbai, will stop at Lakshwadeep and Goa for a day each; a two-night cruise, departing every Thursday, will sail from Mumbai up to Goa and then back; and you can even take a one-night cruise from Mumbai and back.

This last departs every Saturday at 8pm and returns on Sunday at 2 in the afternoon, making it convenient for a weekend getaway.

The cost of the cruise starts at Rs 3,600 per person for a shared cabin, if you book 45 days in advance with the 45 day Star Saver package. However, you can pay up to Rs 74,200 (Rs 66,800 with the Star Saver package) for the five-day-four-night trip to Lakshadweep, if you book one of the two executive suites.

An oceanview stateroom with a window can cost anywhere between Rs 23,200 to Rs 32,600 per person, depending on the deck, for the Lakshadweep cruise, and between Rs 7,300-5,100 for a weekend trip.

According to Naresh Rawal, head of marketing, Star Cruises (India), “Cruising is a developing form of holiday from India and Star Cruises has seen an approximate growth of about 35-40 per cent each year. It was because of this strong growth trend that we were optimistic about deploying a ship in India. And because there will be no passport or visa requirements (as the ship will only sail along the Indian coast), we are expecting the domestic cruising market to open up even more. We are also quite optimistic about the ship adding to the inbound tourism of India as well.”

Being for the Indian market, the cruises have restaurants that serve vegetarian and Jain food at no extra cost — The Saffron, a buffet-style vegetarian and Jain restaurant on board is inclusive in the price of the cruise.

Other inclusive restaurants include Taj by the Bay (a family restaurant for Indian vegetarian and non-vegetarian food), the Four Seasons (for a Continental set menu) and Two Trees (only open to passengers in suite cabins). Other than these restaurants, there is a pool bar, a 24 hour snack bar and an ice cream bar.

If food is not quite enough, however, to float your boat, there’s also a selection of onboard entertainment “designed to give the ship an international flavour which will be best suited to the Indian audience”, according to Rawal.

This comprises dance acts (including performers from Brazil, Belarus, and acrobats from China), late night shows, talent shows and game shows. For the intrepid, the ship also has The Bollywood, a karaoke lounge, and The Boomers, a disco.

The non-stop weekend cruise is very much a family affair with many activities for kids and adults, including games, dance classes and theme parties. There’s a video game parlour for kids, too, and obviously a pool as well. The use of all facilities like the swimming pool, the jacuzzis, the gym and disco are included in the cost of the cruise.

All of this, along with the price, will ensure that the entry of Star Cruises will make a deep change to the Indian cruising market. A Silversea cruise would start from $500 (around Rs 21,800) per day, and can go up to around $1,100 (around Rs 48,000) — although of course these cruises go as far as Europe and North America.

Royal Carribean, Celebrity and Island cruises would all be between $100-800 a day (Rs 4,360-34,880). Out of these, Silversea and Celebrity do not have conducive environments for children, catering mostly to older customers.

The market for Star, therefore, will be entirely separate, (“Their customers don’t come to us, and ours don’t go to them,” as Gautam Chadha, chief executive, Tirun Travel Marketing, which represents Royal Caribbean Cruises, Celebrity and Silversea among other cruises, says of Silversea and Star).

Instead of competing for the same consumer, then, hopefully they will cause the overall cruise market room to grow.

“Star Cruises caters to consumers of all segments: families (including kids), honeymooners, elderly couples and corporates,” says a Star executive, “A cruise vacation is no longer seen as an option limited only to the rich and famous. It is considered an integral part of a vacation of even a higher income middle class Indian family. This is thanks to cruises like Star, which has pioneered the concept of mass cruising with easy accessibility and affordability.”

At the moment, only 40,000 Indians cruise, and while there are an intrepid few who will venture to the Norwegian fjords, South-east Asia remains the favourite destination of the Indian traveller.

So, even if it’s not the most adventurous holiday in the world (there’s Jain food on board for heaven’s sake), a cruise market opening up so close to home can only be good news for the Indian holiday-maker.


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