India now has its own home-grown luxury cruise operation, Cordelia Cruises, a cruise line “built by Indians for Indians”, according to its operators, India-registered Waterways Leisure Tourism, an affiliate of the Dream Hotel Group.
The cruise line, which is being marketed by the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC), is sailing on domestic cruises from Mumbai with Indian residents only. Its crew, also Indian residents, are vaccinated, and so are the guests.
Cordelia Cruises’ first ship – the Empress – sailed previously as the 2000-passenger, 1990-built Royal Caribbean International’s Empress of the Seas.
Beyond current domestic destinations such as Goa, Cochin and Lakshadweep, from May 2022 it is planned for the ship’s base to be shifted to Chennai to begin sailing to Sri Lankan destinations, including Colombo, Galle and Trincomalee.
Waterways Leisure said previously it planned to invest up to US$300 million in the next three to five years for the development of the cruise sector in India. It plans to add more ships and hopes to extend its cruise itineraries to the Middle East and Europe,
Jurgen Bailom, CEO and president of Waterways Leisure Tourism, previously held senior positions within several of Royal Caribbean’s brands and for a short period was COO and vice-president of Royal Caribbean’s Pullmantur cruise operation.
He said 200,000 Indian passengers went abroad for cruising each year, and those numbers were growing by 15% per year. “We’re providing absolutely great food and great entertainment, without [Indian citizens] having to leave the comfort of the country,” he added.
In 2020, Waterways Leisure Tourism acquired the brand name of Jalesh Cruises, once touted as India’s first international-standard cruise operator, but Jalesh owner Zen Cruises was left without a ship when creditors forced the auction of its only vessel, Karnika, a ship which had been sailing for P&O Australia as Pacific Jewel.
The Karnika ended up being sold for scrap.
Bailom, Jalesh’s chief executive at the time, blamed the company’s financial problems on the Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown in India.
But it hasn’t been all smooth sailing for Cordelia Cruises after the company was forced to distance itself from a drug raid on board the Empress by India’s Narcotics Control Bureau in Mumbai on October 2.
In a prepared statement, Bailom said, "I wish to express that Cordelia Cruises is in no way, directly or indirectly, connected to this incident.
“Cordelia Cruises had chartered its ship for a private event to a Delhi-based event management company. We condemn all acts such as these and will strictly refrain from letting our ship out for similar events in the future.”