Cruise and agents’ al­liance a must

As tour oper­a­tors and travel agents see mar­gins be­ing eroded with high taxation and in­creas­ing com­pe­ti­tion be­tween on­line travel por­tals, the in­dus­try is look­ing for­ward to a new al­liance be­tween cruise pro­fes­sion­als, travel agents and tour oper­a­tors.

TravTalk - India - - Cruise Talk - MEGHA PAUL

With cruise hol­i­day as an al­ter­na­tive to a land­based va­ca­tion, it was ex­pected to take off in a big way par­tic­u­larly be­cause of its all-in­clu­sive ap­peal. How­ever, the po­ten­tial of cruise tourism in In­dia still re­mains un­tapped. In com­pet­i­tive times where air­line com­mis­sions are dwin­dling, a new al­liance be­tween cruise pro­fes­sion­als, travel agents and tour oper­a­tors is the way for­ward.

The cruise mar­ket in In­dia had to its credit more than 1,15,000 pas­sen­gers set­ting sail an­nu­ally, Shibani

Phad­kar, Se­nior Vice Pres­i­dent, Leisure Travel ( Out­bound), Thomas Cook (In­dia) re­veals. Given that the com­pany pre­dicted vi­able po­ten­tial for cruises, Thomas Cook In­dia was the first travel com­pany to set up an exclusive cruise di­vi­sion, as early as 2007. “De­spite the gloom pre­dicted by the pun­dits, at Thomas Cook In­dia, we’ve seen an im­pres­sive growth of 23 per cent and up­ward, in­clud­ing FIT, GIT and MICE seg­ments for 2013. Our cruise team has seen very in­ter­est­ing up­take from two strongly emerg­ing seg­ments - the youth and the woman-trav­eller. Cruises are a top draw for our ad- hoc groups too - we’ve had ‘ kitty party’ groups, ‘bach­e­lor- and bach­e­lorette- party’ groups, an­niver­sary cel­e­bra­tions and also groups of friends,” she af­firms. Leisure travel tops the com­pany’s cruise port­fo­lio, con­tribut­ing 90 per cent of the rev­enue, fol­lowed by VFR ( about seven per cent) and fi­nally busi­ness trav­ellers (three per cent).

As Phad­kar ex­plains, the cruise in­dus­try sells ‘itin­er­ar­ies’ and not des­ti­na­tions as the ship it­self is the ‘des­ti­na­tion’. “A strong ad­van­tage is that one vis­its a myr­iad of des­ti­na­tions in a short span of time sans the ten­sion of hav­ing to pack/un­pack, flights or other travel. Plus, the pric­ing is all in­clu­sive; which means ev­ery­thing from travel, ac­com­mo­da­tion and meals to en­ter­tain­ment is taken care of. All these fac­tors en­sure that cruise hol­i­days’ share of the pie keeps in­creas­ing by leaps and bounds,” she states.

Throw­ing light on new trends in the in­dus­try, Naresh

Rawal, Vice-Pres­i­dent, Sales, South Asia, Rus­sia, Mid­dle East and South Africa, Star Cruises, con­firms, “While busi­ness travel, hol­i­day and VFR trips still dom­i­nate out­bound vol­umes, people are opt­ing for niche prod­ucts such as sports tourism, lux­ury trav­els, hon­ey­moon pack­ages and cruises. It re­veals clear op­por­tu­ni­ties for mar­ket seg- men­ta­tion and niches. More In­di­ans are now go­ing for in­ter­na­tional cruises but most of them pre­fer short cruises, rather than the long voy­ages that Amer­i­cans and Euro­peans seek. First-timers opt for short cruises to Sin­ga­pore, Thai­land and Malaysia, as a pack­age to these coun­tries is cheaper. April-June is the peak sea­son for out­bound cruise tourism in In­dia.” Cruis­ing is cheaper than a land-based hol­i­day as the cruise pack­age takes care of the stay and a max­i­mum of three meals and en­ter­tain­ment on board, he adds.

Cruise stake­hold­ers should pro­vide world- class prod­ucts to their clients such as cuisines, en­ter­tain­ment, and in­ter­na­tional ex­pe­ri­ences to at­tract In­dian tourists, opines Ratna

Chadha, Chief Ex­ec­u­tive, TIRUN Travel Mar­ket­ing and In­dia Rep­re­sen­ta­tive, Royal Caribbean Cruises. “The in­dus­try stake­hold­ers, along with the govern­ment, should make way for in­ter­na­tional cruise oper­a­tors to in­vest in In­dia. A com­plex tax regime, along with te­dious im­mi­gra­tion pro­cesses, is cost­ing the In­dian govern­ment pre­cious for­eign ex­change. To bring an in­ter­na­tional cruise ex­pe­ri­ence to the In­dian back­wa­ters, govern­ment has to mod­u­late cruise poli­cies,” she says. Talk­ing about the ben­e­fits of cruise va­ca­tions for out­bound travel agents, she in­forms, “Agents, who ear­lier han­dled 60 per cent of travel book­ings in In­dia, have been forced by fall­ing air­line com­mis­sion rev­enues to fo­cus on value- added ser­vices and the leisure mar­ket. Cruise seg­ment, though niche is rapidly get­ting pop­u­lar, es­pe­cially in­ter­na­tional cruises and has not yet been to­tally tapped by the travel trade.” Ac­cord­ing to Nishith

Sax­ena, Di­rec­tor, Cruise Pro­fes­sion­als, con­ven­tional hol­i­day pack­ages are be­com­ing mo­not­o­nous and pre­dictable and travel agents need to look at prod­ucts that will give their cus­tomers new ex­pe­ri­ences. “I feel agents in In­dia will start en­gag­ing more with cruise lin­ers, as it will not only help them stay in­no­va­tive, but also as­sist in in­creas­ing their in­come,” he adds. There is a huge dearth of trained staff in the cruise sec- tor. The staff, in ma­jor­ity of agencies, is trained only in the air­line as­pect of the busi­ness of is­su­ing tick­ets. Such staff needs ex­po­sure to learn and un­der­stand about in­ter­na­tional des­ti­na­tions to be able to sug­gest, pro­mote and sell with con­fi­dence to the dis­cern­ing out­bound trav­eller, Sax­ena laments.

As per Sid­hartha Roy, Se­nior Vice Pres­i­dent, ITPL & TRN Mar­ket­ing, this is a good op­por­tu­nity for travel agents and tour oper­a­tors, as com­mis­sion from cruises is sig­nif­i­cantly higher. “For our com­pany, travel agents can rake in com­mis­sions as high as 30 per cent. Also, there are big in­cen­tives for the B2B fra­ter­nity be­yond the com­mis­sion. Thus, stake­hold­ers should con­tinue ed­u­cat­ing and up­dat­ing the travel trade about cruise prod­ucts,” he adds.

Naresh Rawal

Vice-Pres­i­dent, Sales, South Asia, Rus­sia, Mid­dle East and South Africa, Star Cruises

Sid­hartha Roy

Se­nior Vice Pres­i­dent ITPL & TRN Mar­ket­ing

Nishith Sax­ena

Di­rec­tor Cruise Pro­fes­sion­als

Shibani Phad­kar

Se­nior Vice Pres­i­dent, Leisure Travel (Out­bound), Thomas Cook (In­dia)

Ratna Chadha

Chief Ex­ec­u­tive, TIRUN Travel Mar­ket­ing and In­dia Rep­re­sen­ta­tive, Royal Caribbean Cruises

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