The expected increase in arrival of cruise tourists might offer a respite to Kerala’s tourism stakeholders who are concerned about the lacklustre arrival of guests from places like Europe.

The Kochi Port foresees an increase in number of cruise liners arriving in the city, from 44 last fiscal to 50 in 2012-’13. This will have an added impact on the regional economy since cruise tourists are generally high spenders. On an average, each cruise tourist spends $200 in the State during the ship’s stopover here for less than a day. In 2011, the arrival of nearly 58,000 cruise tourists to Kochi generated revenue worth Rs 60 crore to the State’s exchequer.

Interestingly, more shipping companies are showing a preference to berth the vessel here overnight. This is seen as a marked difference from the past when the vessels used to come early in the morning and leave by evening. On Saturday, around 2,800 guests and 1,250 crew members arrived on board Celebrity Solstice, a mega cruise liner having 19 decks. The ship arrived here from Muscat and will leave the city on Sunday for Malaysia.

The port expects more such big vessels this financial year and is equipping itself to play the host. “More similar-sized vessels would call at Kochi if the ship’s captain is happy with the navigation channel and services, the markings, berthing, mooring etc.,. The captain of Celebrity Solstice has given a good opinion of the amenities here and the word will spread,” said the port’s Traffic Manager C. Unnikrishnan Nair.

Easy immigration

This was a positive trend for cruise tourism, albeit at a modest level, he said. Moreover, there was no delay in immigration procedures. The officials boarded the vessel from the outer sea and the formalities were over by the time it arrived at the port.

But a few hundred crew members could not disembark here because they did not have the continuous discharge certificate issued by their country’s government, nor a visa to enter India. But the over 100 Indian crew members could check out Kochi and nearby districts.

The ship’s ground handling agents – Marvel Tours, arranged tours to various tourism locales in and around Kochi. “Over 1,000 guests disembarked the vessel in just 30 minutes. About 280 of them visited Alappuzha, 80 Vaikom, 120 Kumbalanghi, 250 visited Fort Kochi and Mattancherry, 250 went on a panoramic drive in the city, while 170 took a boat ride along Kochi’s backwaters and also witnessed a Kathakali performance in Fort Kochi,” said Jacob Thomas, Director (Operations) of Marvel.

Turnaround port

The port is also encouraging vessels to use Kochi as a turnaround port. Thus around 2,000 tourists will disembark here from cruise ship Aida Diva next week, while a similar number will board the vessel when it is berthed here from November 25 to 28.

“During the visit, we plan to open eight stalls in our cruise-facilitation centre, where ethnic produce will be put up for sale. Each stall will have a 30 sq m area,” Mr Nair said.

Though cruise ships are berthed in different berths of the port, the length of the BTP berth would be increased and improvements made to the shipping channel to attract more ships, sources said.

This apart, only drivers of 250 autos which register with the port prior to the arrival of each ship are permitted to transport the cruise passengers. The port also takes feedback from the tourists, to zero in on drivers who misbehave or fleece.

Kochi is the most-preferred cruise destination in India because of her proximity to the international shipping route.

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