Hardly six weeks into business, Kerala’s cruise tourism product has suffered a setback, with the cruise operator, Louis Cruises deciding to halt operations.
In an ironic twist, the cruise company is operating a special ‘eclipse cruise’ this week that will enable tourists to experience the eclipse from the sea, but this week’s cruise will also mark at least a temporary eclipse to the cruise company’s operations in Kerala.
The cruise company has offered to return in October, but tourism industry players here feel that the abrupt ending of a much-publicized product would give a bad image to the industry in general. They said refunds would be made to tourists who had made advance bookings.
Mediterranean cruise major Louis Cruises is learnt to have given different reasons for their pull out, of which the high port tariff at the Cochin Port is one of the important ones. Louis Cruises officials were not available for comment, but the Cochin Port Trust officials said that the tariff rates applicable at the port were determined by the Tariff Authority for Major Ports, and that the port had extended all possible assistance to Louis Cruises.
They said Louis Cruises’ vessel MV Aquamarine had been provided the best possible rates and assistance, including allotment of a dedicated berth to the ship and walk-in berthing/on-demand sailing priority, considering passenger convenience.
They said Louis Cruises had “at no time indicated that they would be withdrawing operations attributing the reason to high port charges”.
Over the six weeks of its operations, Louis Cruises is estimated to have attracted roughly 12,000 passengers from different parts of the country.
Tourism industry players in the state, however, feel that the withdrawal of operations at short notice does not augur well for the state’s tourism brand. EM Najeeb, chairman of Air Travel Enterprises here, one of the preferred sales agents of Louis Cruises, told ET that the cruise operator’s decision was a setback, considering the brand-building that was done for the new product in Kerala tourism’s overall offering.
Johny Abraham George, CMD of Kochi-based Intersight, which was among the select agents for Louis Cruises, said it was a “definite loss to all concerned”, adding that the industry hoped that the cruise operator would be able to return in October with more clarity on its product offering.