Costa Crociere S.p.A of Italy starts a cruise line service to Maldives on December 16 with Mumbai as a home port where services start and end, attempting to open a market where another operator has earlier failed.
Costa Crociere, Italy’s biggest travel group and Europe’s top cruise ship company, which runs cruise service under the Costa Cruises brand name, plans to run the service between Mumbai and Maldives until March 18, 2017 when the cruise season typically ends, a spokesman for India’s Director General of Shipping (DGS) said.
The Genoa, Italy-based Costa is a unit of Carnival Corporation & plc, the world’s largest cruise ship operator. The cruise operator will deploy its ship named ‘Costa neoClassica’ for the service.
In January 2010, Louis Cruise Lines, the world’s fifth-largest cruise line operator, stopped its Cochin-Maldives service it had started just 40 days earlier, citing expensive port charges.
Cruise tourism in India is in its infancy and has just started generating interest. Currently, there are no international cruise lines using an Indian port as a so-called home or a port from where services begin and end. As such, Indian tourists will have to fly abroad to be able to go on cruise ships.
“Cruise tourism is a fast growing component of the leisure industry, worldwide. Through this segment of niche tourism, a huge amount of foreign exchange can be earned and income generated onshore by providing the right policy environment and infrastructure. With the steady development of India’s economy, growing middle class and increasing disposable income which could be spent on leisure activities, the overall environment is conducive for the promotion of cruise tourism within the country. However, due to lack of availability of international standard cruise facilities, promotion efforts and procedural hassles, these cruise vessels use ports outside India for home porting,” a spokesman for the shipping ministry said.
Costa Crociere, which runs a fleet of 27 ships with a guest capacity of 70,000, will announce the launch of the Mumbai-Maldives-Mumbai service on Monday (18 July). The company could not be reached immediately for comment.
Louis Cruise Lines had been the only luxury liner to run cruises from India after the Union government eased taxes as part of a policy to encourage the industry. The subsidiary of Cyprus-based Louis Plc. had planned to run the service offering Cochin-Maldives-Cochin and Cochin-Colombo-Cochin routes.
Another impediment to cruise ships is taxing of some on-board activities. A cruise ship has to sail some 200 nautical miles from the coast to be exempt from tax on serving liquor or operating the casino, according to an executive with a global cruise line who declined to be named.
Globally, cruise tourism has been growing at about 12% a year and generating more than $14 billion a year in revenue from more than 10 million passengers.
As no Indian firm owns a luxury cruise line yet, the Union government has been encouraging foreign cruise liners to undertake coastal runs. In July 2008, the cabinet approved a cruise shipping policy exempting operators from income-tax, excise duty, customs duty, corporate tax and service tax. But the policy was never implemented, and a shipping ministry official attributed it to lack of co-ordination between various government departments.
In March 2009, to encourage global luxury liners to run cruises in India, the government eased laws that had barred foreign registered ships from carrying passengers between Indian ports without a licence from the director general of shipping, India’s maritime regulator. The relaxation is valid for 10 years. But the high port charges discouraged cruise lines from starting India-centric services.