Antara Phookan, Director (Business Development & Design), Assam Bengal Navigation, confirms that the company has started receiving bookings from international clients for the upcoming season, which bodes well not only for tourism but also for river cruising in India.
Have you started receiving bookings for your river cruises?
We have already started receiving direct bookings from the inbound market for our upcoming season. Our Ganges cruises will start in August as we do our special cruise upstream on the upper Ganges, which is comfortably accessible only at this time of the year when it has sufficient water levels to cruise from Kolkata to Varanasi. Our Brahmaputra cruises will start by mid-October after the annual monsoon floods reside.
What kind of bookings are you receiving right now?
Our clientele is mainly in the leisure segment. Our strategy is to revive our trade network, build a new network with promoters of conscious luxury travel and add new value-added experiences. We are relying on our existing loyal network in the trade that knows our reputed quality of service for years now. Additionally, when our season starts in the latter half of the year, we will selectively choose interested companies dedicated to learning about our unique product offering so that they can promote better.
What kind of future do you see for India’s river cruising industry, especially in the light of the pandemic when ocean cruising is losing its allure?
India has immense potential in building the river cruising industry as we have so many culturally rich and naturally beautiful rivers. However, it is necessary to educate the domestic market to the unique concept of a ‘conscious luxury’ river cruising journey in India. We are at par with all the greatest river cruising journeys in the world and Assam Bengal Navigation is responsible for putting India’s greatest Himalayan rivers on the river cruising map! Not many are aware that a true Himalayan river cruising experience is a long-distance cruising journey taking you to different sights and experiences over seven nights.
What kind of trends do you foresee in river cruising?
On the Brahmaputra River, which has a stunning natural landscape with flora and fauna in abundance, we are introducing a few special departures that will combine the cruising journey with cycling experiences, hence offering adventurers to explore on foot, cycle or by car. It is an opportunity for MICE events with smaller groups that focus on nature and wellness; however it is not for the traditional MICE sector.
Our concept of long-distance river cruising for about a minimum of five to seven nights on the Himalayan rivers is slowly but surely becoming known in the domestic market, mainly from word of mouth recommendations, which we find is our best, organic growth strategy. We encourage guests to take the full experience of our thoughtfully-curated long-distance river cruising journeys.
Have you launched any new product recently?
For clients interested in short experiences, we have a three-night river cruise journey, the ‘Bengal Memories’ itinerary on the lower Ganges that gives an introduction to the rich cultural history of this river, whereas on the Brahmaputra, we have a four-night river cruise journey, the ‘Brahmaputra Taster’ itinerary that offers an introductory experience to this majestic Himalayan river. We have another houseboat joining our fleet, this time with two cabins, dedicated to adventurers, who will be able to take it all the way up to the foothills of Arunachal Pradesh. We have also added our revamped boutique expedition ship to join our boutique luxury ship on the Brahmaputra River.