The Empress has set sail from Mumbai on a two-night round voyage to nowhere. The 1,607-passenger ship, operated by new Indian startup Cordelia Cruises, has started operations.
“We started bookings very well for sure. The demand has been very good,” said Jurgen Bailom, CEO and president of Waterways Leisure Tourism Private Limited, which owns Cordelia Cruises. “The wedding season is in very high demand. The first two sailings are fully booked – fully chartered for events and weddings.”
The cruise line is sailing at full capacity with Indian residents only. Its crew (also Indian residents) are vaccinated, and so are the guests. Additionally, everybody had to take PCR tests, Bailom said.
“We do have social distancing, the way we check in our guests … (it’s) staggered, they come by deck and cabin. So, every half an hour, there’s another category going onboard. We have all the measures in place. But, because of the way a ship operates, never – even pre-COVID – will you have 2,000 people doing the same thing. Some people are seeing the show, some people are eating, some people are in different lounges, some people are doing something else. Even when you have 2,000 guests, there are never more than 100 or 200 people in one place. (And these places are) large,” he explained.
Bailom said that when Waterways created Cordelia, it wanted to cover all the aspects important for India, meaning “absolutely great food and great entertainment, without having to leave the comfort of the country.”
So, Waterways set up Cordelia Cruises with its first ship – the Empress, formerly known as Royal Caribbean International’s Empress of the Seas.
The cruise line was first set to start on May 7, 2021, but because of the serious coronavirus outbreak in India, the inaugural season was postponed.
According to him, 200,000 Indian passengers go abroad for cruising each year, so creating demand will not be an issue for Cordelia.
“We believe that India has a huge potential. Given the fact that cruising is growing up to 15 percent a year here and India having the third largest coastline in the world with 7,600 kilometers, it made automatic sense that India deserved its own cruise line,” Bailom said.
By August 2022, the cruise line is planning to add another ship to its fleet and, by 2025, have between four and six ships. Its first itineraries are around India, Sri Lanka and the Maldives.
“Obviously, we want to take (guests) abroad from India. There’s a lot of beautiful areas close by, which we could explore – we could go somewhere else in Asia, we could go to the Middle East … My dream, personally, would be taking Indians all over Europe,” Bailom said. “We want them to keep coming back because cruise business is built on repeat guests. And to have repeat guests, you can’t keep bringing them back to the same (locations), you have to have different opportunities.”