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Domestic travellers take fancy to cruise travel

July 19, 2005 15:18 IST

Looks like leisure travel is cruising along. Around 30,000 Indians went on cruises last year, registering a 20 per cent growth over the previous year.

This year, going by an estimate of the Travel Corporation (India) Pvt Ltd, the number can go up by over 60 per cent to 50,000.

"In the April-June quarter alone, about 30,000 people have travelled abroad with us and 20 per cent of them opted for cruises," says Frederick Divecha, vice-president (marketing), SOTC.

Though demand is primarily driven by families, at least 15-20 per cent of business is coming from India Inc, which sees cruises as the perfect incentive to send employees' spirits soaring.

While summer, Diwali, X'mas and New-Year are seen as cruise-time by families, the corporate demand exists throughout the year. Corporate crowds are known to vary from groups of 10 to even groups of 200.

New ships operated by Star Cruises -- the leading cruise operator in the Asia-Pacific region -- from India along the Indian coast, has come as more good news for budget-conscious corporates, as they can cut down on the airfare that comes with far-off cruise destinations. It also means no dollar spend and visa costs.

South East Asia, Singapore, Alaska, Europe and the Caribbean have so far been among the hottest cruise destinations.

"This year Star Cruises will become the first company to homeport a ship in India. SuperStar Libra would be cruising from Mumbai to Lakshadweep and Goa, starting from October," says Naresh Rawal, senior marketing manager- India, Star Cruises.

Travel and cruise companies have never had it so good and they are going all out to make the most of growing demand.

Star Cruises is now offering one and two-night packages positioned as the perfect weekend break for busy executives.

While rates are anywhere between $120 - $150 per night, many companies are offering early bird discounts, child discounts and more. Add to that the seasonal price variations based on demand and supply.

"This year we are seeing more bookings in the July-September monsoon period. Cruise holidays could soon become a year round phenomenon for the family segment as well," says Divecha of SOTC.

Some part of the enthusiasm for cruise is attributed to the novelty factor. "It's also value for money. You know in advance what you are paying for so you can budget accordingly," says Meher Bhandara, GM-corporate communications, TCI.

Cruise prices include all meals, accommodation, entertainment on board and the use of most shipboard facilities.

Besides, the cruise ship is your floating hotel, so there is no unpacking and packing, no decisions on where to eat and what to do.

Star Cruises, for instance, offers specialty Jain meals aboard some of its ships, not to mention Hindi music in karaoke bars.

Often, cruises are packaged with airfare to and from the port of departure with an additional one or two-night stay. It also includes sightseeing.

The discerning modern-day traveler on his part is trying to extract the most out of every rupee spent. The usual three-night cruises are being given the go-by in favour of five-night or longer cruises that give enough time on board to experience all that a ship has to offer.

Passengers are also opting for higher grade outside cabins and suites rather than inside cabins offered at lower prices.
Malavika Mariswamy in Mumbai
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