A cruise tourism policy is in the making and will be announced next month, Union minister Nitin Gadkari said on Tuesday, with an aim to tap India’s vast potential on this front and attract more vessels. The country draws nearly 70 cruise vessels a year, which is expected to go up to 700 with this initiative.
“Cruise tourism can be India’s economic growth engine as there is a vast untapped potential. In a month, the policy will be ready as a joint working group comprising shipping and tourism secretaries is working on it,” Shipping, Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari said.
Speaking to reporters in New Delhi after chairing a workshop on development of cruise tourism, Gadkari said the action plan will be finalised in the next three months that includes key steps on par with international standards, simplification of procedures, easy immigration and ways to make India a global hotspot. Union Tourism Minister Mahesh Sharma was present.
At present, Gadkari said, India attracts 70 cruise vessels which can go up to 700 and a slew of steps are on to boost infrastructure that include building cruise terminals at five major ports — Mumbai, Goa, New Mangalore, Chennai and Cochin. India, with a 7,500 km of coastline, has taken some key steps to promote cruise that includes relaxation of policies and roping in global consultants. The idea is to put India on the global cruise map — both for oceans and rivers — which is seen to create about 2.5 lakh jobs and boost growth.
India saw 1.76 lakh cruise passengers in 2016-17, a merely 0.5 per cent of the global pie. Domestic cruise passengers are estimated to grow to 1.5 million by 2031-32. Of the 12 major ports, only five — Mumbai, Goa, Cochin, New Mangalore and Chennai — have facilities to berth international cruise ships.
Gadkari said modern cruise terminals being developed at ports will include hospitality, retail, shopping and restaurants, adding that about 200 minor ports will develop jetties for such cruise vessels. He said: “It is a great means for bringing foreign exchange from overseas and Indian travellers to India… Cruise tourists contribute handsomely to local economies… It has the potential to be a driver of growth for the areas touched by it.”
Recently, the Mumbai Port Trust, which has a dedicated berth for cruise tourism, hosted its largest passenger ship Genting Dream with 1,900 passengers. Against 40 ships a year, 59 cruise ships confirmed their visit to the Mumbai Port during the current fiscal.
A cruise ship carries 3,000-4,000 tourists with 1,500-strong crew to various coastal cities, islands, countries, and itself acts like a destination with all entertainment, leisure activities on board.
Listing out the policy initiatives to promote cruise shipping, the minister said ships are now allowed to stay for 3 days, up from the earlier 24 hours, and rules have been simplified to attract more vessels. Easier standard operating procedure (SOP) for cruise operations involving multiple agencies has already been issued.
Among other measures, the government has allowed foreign flag vessels carrying passengers to call at Indian ports without securing a licence from the director general of shipping till February 5, 2024. Also, major ports will offer a minimum of 30 per cent rebate across the board on all vessel related charges for cruise shipping and not levy any priority fee.
Incentives to push cruise liners to make major ports as home ports include a rebate of 25 per cent in vessel charges, in addition to the existing 40 per cent discount for coastal vessels. The minister added that the work to develop waterways on the Ganga and the Brahmaputra is on while that of another 10 waterways will start by December. The government is spending Rs 250 crore on dredging in the Brahmaputra on the Bangladesh side, which once developed would facilitate transport till Myanmar.