Costa Cruise: The Ultimate Cruising Destination Traforming the Face of Indian Tourism

Nalini Gupta, Head & Managing Director India’s burgeoning economy is magnetizing the development of numerous sectors, and the cruising industry has anchored its niche too. Witnessing boosts in MICE, destination weddings, leisure escapades or bucket list whims, estimates reflect that over 200,000 Indians cruise annually, leading the domestic cruising to spike to 1.50 million by 2031. As promising as that sounds, with large amounts of disposable income among the country’s middle class majority, cruising has definitely drifted to mainstream on itineraries. Owing to the advances of this mushrooming industry, the Italian born and Indian sailed cruise liner ‘Costa Cruise’ is a renowned name that reiterates the success of India’s cruising as a superpower in tourism.

Launched to sail Indian & international waters in 2016 (home ported Costa neoClassica for sailings between Mumbai to Maldives), in the presence of its Head & Managing Director Nalini Gupta, Costa Cruise has redefined possibilities of uber style cruising within affordable packages and unforgettable voyages. Underscoring India’s third largest coastline in the world, this cruise line is all set to crown Indian seas, bedecking international experiences with customisations to meet the unique needs of the Indian market. In an exclusive talk with Nalini, siliconindia Travel delves deep into exploring more about Costa Cruise and unravels deeper insights about the role of this cruise line in revolutionizing the face of Indian tourism.

Talk us through the journey of Costa Cruise and its introduction to Indian tourism. Also, tell us about your experience and expertise that backs the success of Costa Cruise in the country.
In the earlier days, Cruising was for the more premium segment, but as the number of ships/capacity increased, most cruise liners aimed to capture the Middle Class market to enable fast growth in numbers. Costa Cruises was then the first cruise liner to start home porting ships to offer cruises from Mumbai to Maldives in December 2016. And since we were the only cruise liner to offer cruises from Mumbai to Cochin, Cochin to Maldives, Mumbai to Maldives and Maldives to Mumbai, it clearly showed our keen interest in growing the Indian cruise market. Not just this, but Indian itineraries have also had a positive ripple effect on cruising itineraries from Dubai, Europe and the Far East, and ever since, we have seen our passenger numbers grow year-on-year by 50 percent.

I on the other hand, am lucky to have had a varied exposure in the travel industry, comprising of two decades at Air India, to heading Abacus CRS systems, serving as Regional Head of South East Asia South African Airways, as President of Thomas Cook Travel Businesses & Director of Travel Corporation of India. Throughout my career I enjoyed being part of projects that were at their initial stages of growth. This led me to settingup Lotus Destinations in December 2009, which became the GSA for the European Cruise Leader, Costa Cruise in 2012. My company is primarily invested in growing the phenomenon of cruising within India, with focused efforts being on Costa Cruise. We have realized that Costa Cruise has now garnered emphatic presence in India, and I am very optimistic that it will eventually become the new way of holidaying for Indians.

What are your thoughts on the current trends of the cruising industry in India, and what differential aspects about Costa Cruise do you see capturing the attention of the country’s larger middle class audience?
India has the third largest coastline in the world and therefore Indians have a natural affinity towards the sea and activities around it. However, presently, India contributes to less than one percent of the global cruising numbers, which is estimated to reach 30 million by 2019, as per CLIA reports. Cruises have considered this an opportunity to offer closer to home itineraries yet
providing the Indian traveller international experiences. As more cruise companies like us home port ships from ports in India bringing the cruising concept closer to the Indian traveler, the number of Indian cruisers is estimated to grow by leaps and bounds for not only India itineraries, but also other itineraries close to home like Dubai, Singapore, Mediterranean, Alaska and even more exotic routes like Antarctica.

We are the only cruise line to offer a ‘free cruise package’ to kids below 18 years (pay only port taxes and onboard gratuities), so we have many families travelling with us

To woo the growth of this industry, we at Costa provide an all inclusive package at great value. We are the only cruise line to offer a ‘Free Cruise Package’ to kids below 18 years (pay only port taxes and onboard gratuities), so we have many families travelling with us. Since India is a market with a varied group of customers, from corporate, wedding groups and senior citizens, Costa is one of the few cruise liners to offer cruises across the globe from India, Middle East, Europe, South America and Caribbean. In terms of the Indian perspective, we make sure while the cruise provides an international experience onboard, there is customisation to meet the unique needs of the Indian market. Since we have consistently exceeded our customer’s expectations, we have not only retained existing cruisers but seen growth coming from the strong word of mouth referrals.

Tell us about the challenges that you face within the industry, and how do overcome them?
The challenges faced currently for cruises departing outside the country are mainly related to visas issues. With visa rejections coming in last minute, many times guests, have to cancel their cabins, which become difficult for cruise liners to sell last minute. Also, Indian travelers are last minute bookers, which sometimes leads to difficulty in availability of cabins, which are firmed by other markers well in advance. From a homeporting point of view, while we saw an improvement in port facilities and a better understanding of this sector from the other Government agencies such as the Customs department, Immigration, and CISF over the initial season, a clear Cruise policy and exemption of taxes needs to be brought out by the Government to enable this sector to flourish in India and the world.

However, I view most challenges as opportunities and find solutions for the same. In terms of Government, we have been able to forge strong relationships, and in terms of last minute travellers, we try and put offers in advance to encourage advance forward bookings.

Cruising has become the next best resort to destination weddings and other social events. What is your take on these trends, and how are you planning on instigating a booster on the same?
Indian wedding planners and couples have discovered that weddings onboard a cruise can be hassle free, unique and cost effective options. Keeping in line with the trend, in 2017, we celebrated the largest Indian wedding ever at sea, where by Costa Fascinosa (a Costa fleet member), hosted 3,800 guests exclusively chartered for four nights in the Mediterranean Sea. Even more recently, being the only cruise liner to provide a cruise from Mumbai to Cochin, Costa witnessed a Marwari wedding of 250 guests. The main aim is to provide an all inclusive wedding package of accommodation and entertainment activities to keep guests and kids engaged, with multiple venue options that can even accommodate 1000 guests and unlimited beverage packages. So, the keen interest in Indians wanting to have cruise weddings would be a combination of providing luxury at great value and also hassle free plans, with great Indian cuisines. Moreover, the wedding packages we offer start from Rs.30,000 per person for an Inside Cabin to Rs.40,000 for a Balcony Cabin, for a three nights itinerary with all meals, beverages, venues, entertainment included.

"In november 2019, we will be launching the first lng fuelled ship in the costa fleet, costa smeralda with a passenger capacity of over 5,500 cruisers"

The advantage of having an event on cruise is that it is an all inclusive hassle free destination/vacation, with everything available at one place, giving travellers the flexibility to make the holiday what they want it to be.

What is the future roadmap set for Costa Cruise, and how do you plan on streamlining its forthcoming prospects?
In November 2019, we will be launching the first LNG fuelled ship in the Costa fleet, Costa Smeralda with a passenger capacity of over 5,500 cruisers. This is going to be a major environmental revolution in the cruising industry.

We have also received an overwhelming response from travellers in the past three seasons and looking at the growing demand. In November 2019, we are deploying Costa Victoria, which is a larger vessel than the previously deployed vessels. We believe in strategically growing the market and building a strong foundation. India does have the longest coastline, much off which still stands unexplored, with untapped ports like Lakshadweep, Vizag, Andaman/Nicobar Islands which could be part of future itineraries in India. However, it will be important for good infrastructure and facilities to be up to international standards, before we cruise to those ports. I am confident with the Government’s keen interest in building the blue economy of the country, this will definitely happen. The magnitude of cruising within India is large, and right now, it has just about started.

Nalini Gupta, Head & Managing Director
Holding 37 years of experience and expertise in the travel industry, nalini has grown to become an ardent patron of the travel and tourism world. Bagging along vast expertise having served key positions of several companies, she envisions bringing together diverse business verticals related to travel, aiming to foster opportunities for indians to explore the joy of travelling via cruising.