The tide is definitely turning for Kochi with a whole new wave of opportunities as the Queen of the Arabian Sea is looking at the future with confidence. The proposed modern cruise terminal at the Kochi Port, which is expected to be commissioned by March 2019, is one such project that could offer the city multiple avenues for growth and development.
The proposal, which was accorded in-principle approval by the Union Ministry of Tourism last year, is now awaiting the final clearance from the ministry. So far, the authorities have received three tenders for the civil works associated with the project. The final scrutiny ahead of the selection process is currently under way.
After receiving the nod from the Ministry of Tourism, separate tenders will be invited for works related to electrification, fire safety measures, and security and surveillance systems. Firms and contractors will be finalized once the project gets the final clearance from the ministry, it is learnt.
Huge cruise liners to hit Kochi shores
The Samudrika Convention Centre (Cruise Passenger Facilitation Centre) of Cochin Port Trust, which covers an area of 1,800 sq meters, has basic berthing facilities. But the BTP jetty near the facility is not capable of hosting vessels with a length of over 260 meters. Most of the ships arriving at Kochi are huge luxury cruise liners with a length of over 320 meters, hence they are currently docked in the midst of cargo ships at the Ernakulam Wharf of the Kochi Port. Moreover, the wharf does not have dedicated facilities for cruise liners or permanent immigration counters for tourists.
Each vessel brings hundreds of tourists from around the globe to Kochi. Those who disembark at the wharf are now forced to travel to the Samudrika Convention Centre to complete the formalities of immigration procedures and customs clearance. At present, immigration clearance for such a huge crowd takes an unduly long time at the makeshift counters set up at the wharf.
The Port Trust decided to establish a new cruise terminal at the wharf to avoid such inconveniences caused by lack of proper amenities.
The upcoming facility will ensure smooth sail for cruise vessels calling at the port apart from making life easy for thousands of foreign tourists.
With the commissioning of the new terminal, the Samudrika Convention Centre could be used as a domestic tourism terminal. Passenger ships operating services to Lakshadweep could be docked there.
New terminal to cost Rs 25. 72 crore
In last September, the state government submitted a detailed project report to the Tourism Ministry seeking financial assistance to set up a new terminal. The Kerala Industrial and Technical Consultancy Organization (KITCO) was entrusted with preparation of the report. Since the project is expected to boost increase in foreign tourist arrivals, the response from the ministry has so far been positive.
Designed to international standard, the Port Trust has charted out plans to equip the new terminal with state-of-the-art facilities. As many as 30 immigration counters along the line of international airports would be established. It will also have a refreshment area, cafeteria, curios shops, and parking facilities.
“The proposed terminal will definitely boost cruise tourism in a big way and we expect a spike in the number of tourists visiting the state in the coming years,” said Port Trust traffic manager Jimmy George.
The ministry will extend financial assistance of Rs 25 crore out of Rs 25. 72 crore, the total estimated cost of the project.
The new terminal at the Ernakulam wharf will have a width of 2.250 sq meters. The renovation of the Q7 and Q8 berths at the wharf will see their size go up to 420 meters, which will enable them to host larger vessels.
The cost of civil works is estimated at Rs 19.66 crore. As per the contract, the entire work should be completed within 18 months.
Kochi, the most-preferred cruise destination
Kochi is the first port in India to set up an online immigration clearance facility. With the introduction of the new system, the city became the most-preferred destination for foreign cruises. Each year, there is a significant increase in the number of luxury cruise arrivals at Kochi.
Kochi’s popularity is evident from the fact that luxury cruise liners known as floating palaces such as the Queen Elizabeth, Queen Mary 2, and the Quantum of the Seas have made it a habit to call at the port every season of late.
The total number of vessels that called at the Kochi port last fiscal was 39. The port authorities are expecting around 40-45 cruise liners this season. Tourists from European countries, Australia and America form a major chunk of the cruise tourists arriving here. These high-end tourists contribute crores of rupees to the local economy every season as the average spending by each traveler is estimated at $400.
Cruise ship tourism has a multiplier impact on the local economy, especially the hospitality industry. It is a big income generator for stakeholders in the sector like hotels, taxi, autorickshaw drivers, hotels and homestay operators.
At the same time, the tourism department need to come up with short and attractive tour packages to tap the full potential of cruise ship tourism.
Since the tourists arriving on board cruise ships stay at Kochi for only a brief period of time, special packages should be introduced to cater to them. Apart from setting up a modern terminal, facilities should be arranged to help them explore the cool and beautiful places in and around Kochi. Local people need to show exceptional hospitality to guests as well.
Cruise tourism gets a big boost
With the objective of promoting cruise tourism in India, a task force on Cruise Tourism comprising top officials from different departments under tourism and shipping ministries has been constituted.
The Ministry of Shipping has planned several incentive schemes, including new cruise terminals in a bid to turn around the fate of this industry in the country. The terminals will come up at ports in Mangalore, Mumbai, and Mormugao, apart from Kochi.
The ministry has already eased laws barring foreign-registered ships from carrying passengers between Indian ports, without a license from the director general of shipping, India’s maritime regulator. The relaxation is valid till 2024. Moreover, the major ports in the country have started providing rebate of 25 per cent in vessel-related charges for coastal cruise movement.
The Ministry of Tourism has been providing grants worth crores of rupees for the development of cruise terminal.
The new terminal in Kochi will be set up in compliance with the international standard operating procedures drawn out by the Tourism ministry. Cleanliness, hygiene and safety of passengers will be given top priority as per the guidelines.