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Why global cruise lines are waiting for Zoya Akhtar’s 'Dil Dhadakne Do'

The film, set aboard a ship, could just persuade Indians to start taking expensive vacations on the high seas.

Zoya Akhtar’s 2011 movie Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, a romantic adventure set in Spain, is credited with considerably boosting Indian tourism in the Iberian peninsula. Will her latest film, Dil Dhadakne Do, set aboard a luxury ship sailing around the Mediterranean Sea, similarly float the fortunes of the cruise-liner industry?

Dil Dhadakne Do, whose star-studded cast includes Anil Kapoor, Priyanka Chopra, Ranveer Singh and Anushka Sharma, opens on June 5, just in time for cruise season. “The numbers of Indians travelling on cruise liners is miniscule, around 1.2 lakh every year, and even assuming that there are 10 million Indian tourists who travel abroad every year, the number is dismal,” said Ratna Chadha, Indian representative of Royal Caribbean, one of the big-name international cruise companies operating in India. “We are hoping the movie will boost some interest in the sector.”

Since cricket and Bollywood are two of the biggest influences on Indian consumer habits, added Nalini Gupta, head of Costa Cruises in India. “I think cruise liners will benefit from the movie,” she said.

Indians are generally not very adventurous about travelling abroad because of the costs involved, so it isn't surprising that cruise liners, which can cost $500 a day or more, are at the bottom of their to-do lists. One of the biggest hurdles faced by companies offering cruise packages to Indian tourists is the fact that outbound Indians need to fly to other countries to begin their journey – one of the first inhibiting cost factors. India is only a designated port of call rather than an embarkation and debarkation centre, which means that ships can sail into our waters but passengers cannot get on and off board. Dubai and Singapore are the nearest ports of call for Indian travellers.

“The numbers that India can produce haven’t happened because we don’t have ships leaving our shores,” Nalini Gupta said. “People have to fly to a specific point, and that is an extra expense.”

Poor infrastructure

Cruise liner infrastructure is too poorly developed in India for the international cruising trade, added Ratna Chadha. “Even at the ports, the emphasis is on cargo ships, so if foreign companies have to invest here, there simply isn’t enough infrastructure,” she said.

A 2005 report by the Ministry of Tourism acknowledged the challenges. It stated,
“Ports constitute the core infrastructure requirement of the cruise sector. If India wishes to integrate her position in this market Indian ports would have to meet internationally accepted standards of port infrastructure, passenger services, linkages, other conveniences and amenities...Whereas the major airports in India are designed to international standards, most of the Indian ports lack dedicated facilities for cruise tourism and do not offer the basic standards or the amenities expected.”

India’s inability to follow up on its own insights has been China’s gain. Chadha cited a recent study conducted by students of the Duke College of Management that explored the potential of the Indian and Chinese markets. “China had zero cruise liners in their backyard but today, China is one of the largest markets for every cruise liner,” Chadha pointed out.

It helps that Chinese tourists are what Chadha calls “group oriented” and prefer to travel in groups rather than just family units. Tour charter entire ships and reorient the entertainment and catering to suit their clientele’s tastes. “India has got left out, and Dubai and Singapore have emerged as embarkation hubs,” Chadha said. "The sad part of the story is that India is the largest source market for Singapore, but despite being strategically placed between East and West, and despite the fact that every ship that comes into Singapore crosses India, you cannot board a ship here.”

Cruising on the high seas

When Indians do take the sea route, their favourite destinations include Europe, Alaska and Singapore, Nalini Gupta said. The short-haul trips suit tourists best, and there is an added business from organisers of business conferences and company bosses wishing to gift their dealers a vacation.

For those can afford it, travelling by sea can be the best way to have a relaxed holiday and see the world at a leisurely pace. Pune architect and art dealer Ramprasad Akkisetti and his partner have been on several cruises in the past few years, including along the Baltic Sea and around the South American coast and the Iberian Peninsula.


Ramprasad Akkisetti at the Falkland islands.

“Because of the cruise, we have been to places where we hadn’t been before and where we wouldn’t normally go, like the Falkland islands and Santiago in Chile,” said Akkisetti, who is headed on a sea trip from Rome to Istanbul in August. “The cruise liner takes care of everything for you, you are in a new city every other day, and you don’t have to worry about food or on-board entertainment. It is complete relaxation and for the price you pay, you really get pampered.”

A cruise is ideally suited for travellers who prefer to take in a sight or two in a day rather than cram up their itineraries. Besides, a cruise liner has enough activity on board to keep boredom at bay. Mumbai couple Jason and Donabelle Samuel went on a Carnival cruise in 2013 from New York City to Halifax and back, and they say they could not experience all that their vessel had on offer. “It was great fun, and you can spend your whole day without getting bored,” Jason Samuel said. “There are casinos, karaoke bars, various entertainment shows, a mini-golf course, a swimming pool, and a sauna.”

Donabelle Samuel added. “A cruise is especially fun if you like to mix around and meet other people.”

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