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Cruise time in South-East Asia

Indian travellers are taking cruises in South-East Asia, which are cheaper and more varied

Singapore is particularly popular among Indian travellers.
Singapore is particularly popular among Indian travellers. (iStockphoto)

South-East Asia has always attracted Indian travellers keen to immerse themselves in cultures as diverse as the landscapes. The newest trend seems to be that of cruising in the region, and not just for retirees, but also for groups of friends and working professionals.

“South-East Asia is undoubtedly a larger market for Indian cruisers compared to other destinations in the West,” says Kishan Biyani, managing director of Mumbai-based Ark Travel Group. “Travellers can opt for shorter itineraries of three or four nights instead of the standard seven-night cruises in Europe, reducing overall expenses.”

Singapore stands out as the choicest destination, drawing an “annual footfall of approximately 200,000 Indian passengers”, based on Ark Travel Group’s booking records as well as data provided to them by the Singapore Tourism Board. “These numbers are projected to increase by 20% annually, with 2024 expected to reach pre-pandemic levels,” says Biyani.

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Proximity also plays a significant role. “Ports in India are limited to Goa and Mumbai, and Lakshadweep is too distant, as the sailing time, one way, to the island is 24-30 hours, with guests disembarking only for 8-10 hours,” says Pradeep Saboo of Mumbai-based Guideline Travel Holidays India Pvt. Ltd. The limited options drive vacationers to the Far East, particularly Singapore, and then onward to Malaysia and Thailand, among other destinations.

In October 2023, Mumbai-based Ayushi Shah, 27, signed up for a three-night excursion from Keelung in Taiwan to Manila in the Philippines, aboard the Norwegian Jewel, operated by Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL). She says both the journey and the destination held equal significance. “I have been on a seven-night European cruise with my family once before, and I absolutely loved it, but sailing in South-East Asia offers more offbeat destinations that I otherwise would not have considered.” She explored Taipei and opted for an off-shore excursion to Kaohsiung, Taiwan’s largest port and its second-largest city, where she visited Meinong, a small southern Hakka community and learnt about their way of life, and also enjoyed a cultural performance by the indigenous Paiwan community.

“It is ideal for someone like my mother, who may not wish to take an eight-hour flight to Europe, as well as for a working professional such as myself, who has limited time away from the office. The region is also far more cost effective,” says Shah.

Manoj Singh, country head, India, NCL, says they have seen increased inquiries for all their cruises post covid-19. “Cruise holidays allow Indian families to bond through shared experiences for every age group,” he adds.

Besides catering to a wide demographic, cruises are also hosting weddings. “Weddings and milestone celebrations turn cruise ships into destination venues,” says Biyani. “We have hosted nine weddings in the last seven years in Singapore alone.” It’s also a huge draw for ‘bleisure’ (business and leisure) travel, with large MICE (events industry) movements occurring from January through March and July through September,” says Biyani.

Obtaining multiple-entry visas is straightforward, and the staff are frequently multilingual, with a significant number originating from India. It is no surprise then the region beckons Indian cruisers.

Pooja Naik is Mumbai-based independent travel and culture journalist.

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