The cruise season in Kochi has started on a high note with the arrival of AIDA Vita on Tuesday with 1,181 passengers and 406 crew members. A senior port official said that the current cruise season would extend till May 2020 and around 10 cruise ships were expected to call at the Kochi port between April and May 2020 alone.
Ever since the arrival of cruise tourists acquired a big dimension in Kochi more than a decade ago, the business has grown rapidly with the Port Trust building facilities and offering prompt services to the tourists with the support of other government agencies.
Forty-nine cruise vessels called at Kochi during 2018-19 with 62,753 passengers and 28,828 crew members. During the current financial year, 16 cruise vessels (including AIDA Vita) with 27,095 passengers and 12,059 crew members, have called at the port, officials said. The port is expecting about 38 more cruise ships this financial year, totalling 54 during 2019-20.
The reputation of Kochi as a destination has grown and the list of liners calling regularly at Kochi include those under the most prestigious operators such as Cunard Lines, Royal Caribbean Lines, Aida Cruises and Costa Cruises.
Tourists arriving in Kochi mostly stay for a day and they fan out into nearby destinations such as Kumbalanghi and the Alappuzha backwaters, while some visit the nearest spice gardens. These visits are helping Kerala tourism, said a tour operator, who is closely associated with the cruise tourism business. Innovations like online visa clearances and reduction in the visa charges have helped boost the business, he said.
Even more simplification of the immigration clearance process could go a long way in helping the business, he said
The port trust here has a dedicated cruise terminal at BTP, with world-class passenger facilitation centre, Samudrika, where all statutory clearances like Customs and Immigration for passengers are done. There is also a dedicated cruise cell round-the-clock. The other factors that have helped include walk-in-berthing for cruise vessels, assured quality bunkers, fresh water services and grey water reception facility.
Hospitality industry veteran Jose Dominic said that cruise tourism had helped substantially increase Kerala’s visibility and it created exposure for the foreign tourists. The growth was a sign that destinations such as Kochi were popular and it was to our advantage, he said.