In a significant development for India’s cruise tourism industry, the country’s first international cruise ship, MV Empress, was launched from Chennai, setting sail to Sri Lanka. The ship, carrying 750 passengers, aims to promote affordable and accessible world-class cruise services for Indian travellers. The maiden voyage will visit three ports in Sri Lanka, Hambantota, Trincomalee, and Kankesanturei, before returning to Chennai
The Chinese-built port in Hambantota, which has been a subject of criticism among Indians over the years, has made extensive preparations to warmly welcome India’s inaugural international cruise ship. Despite speculations and concerns from Indian experts suggesting a military purpose behind the construction of the port, Sri Lanka vehemently denied such claims. The decision to choose Hambantota as the port of call for the first international cruise ship from India signifies a significant turning point in bilateral relations.
Sarbananda Sonowal, the union minister of Ports, Shipping & Waterways and Ayush, expressed his enthusiasm for the launch of MV Empress. He stated that India’s coastal region boasts rich heritage and culture, offering immense potential for cruise tourism. Sonowal emphasized that the new cruise service will provide passengers with an opportunity to experience opulent facilities, entertainment, and breathtaking views, while also making such services affordable and easily accessible.
The launch of MV Empress is the result of an agreement between Chennai Port and M/S Waterways Leisure Tourism Pvt Ltd, which was forged during the first Incredible India International Cruise Conference in 2022. The International Cruise Terminal in Chennai, developed at a cost of 17.21 crores Indian rupees, served as the starting point for this remarkable journey.
Looking ahead, the Indian government has ambitious plans to enhance the country’s cruise tourism infrastructure. It aims to construct three new international cruise ports by 2024, with a projected increase in the number of cruise ships from 208 in 2023 to 500 by 2030 and a staggering 1100 by 2047. Moreover, the government intends to explore additional ferry routes connecting India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Myanmar. As a result of these developments, the number of passengers availing cruise services is expected to surge from 9.5 lakhs in 2030 to 45 lakhs in 2047.
In addition to promoting international cruise tourism, the government is also focused on launching Gujarat Pilgrimage tours, Cultural and Scenic Tours, Ayurveda Wellness Tours, and Heritage Tourism initiatives. These efforts reflect India’s commitment to diversifying its tourism offerings and capitalizing on the country’s rich cultural and natural resources. The launch of MV Empress and the subsequent plans for the expansion of India’s cruise tourism industry indicate a promising future for the sector. With enhanced infrastructure, increased cruise ship arrivals, and diverse tour options, India aims to position itself as a major player in the global cruise tourism market, providing unforgettable experiences to both domestic and international travelers