With its first successful commercial sailing on the Ganges amidst a pandemic, Antara Luxury River Cruises has commenced its voyage to offer an unmatched service and life-changing experiences to domestic cruisers. With 12 charter bookings already in its kitty, the 2021 season looks promising for the company.
With COVID-19 having brought a lot of hurdles and challenges for the cruise industry, starting to sail with a new brand was no less than a feat for Antara, but as they say, 2020 has been a productive year for the man often called the ‘Father of River Cruise Tourism in India’ – Raj Singh, Founder & Chairman, Antara Luxury River Cruises and Heritage River Journeys, who, along with the dynamic ‘Luxury Sales Guru of the Industry’ -Hemant Mediratta, Co-founder & COO, Antara Luxury River Cruises, is on a mission to make river cruising a flourishing tourism product in India.
Sharing glimpses from his journey, Singh says that it took him almost 15 years to plan and then start the first commercial river cruise, in 2010, from Kolkata to Varanasi. “The journey from one ship to five ships at present has been very productive, but challenging, too. Over the years, we have put Ganga on the world map for river cruise tourism. Our ship, Ganges Voyager II, has been voted among the six best cruise experiences in the world. With time, we realised that we needed a new brand with all the ships voyaging under one name, and with this thought we launched Heritage River Journeys, Antara Cruises being the new brand,” he said.
He believes that in India, river cruising has a bright future. “With over 100 national waterways in the country, the potential is immense. But, first, we need to overcome challenges both external and technical, to make river cruising in India successful. In fact, a major challenge is that the states where a river is capable of operating a cruise need to have a clear river cruise tourism policy. This will help promote the sector in India,” feels Singh.
Mediratta, too, expects river cruising to flourish. “The initial reaction we received from the market was phenomenal. We have garnered 10-12 charter bookings for 2021 in a short span of time, which goes on to show, and instils, confidence that river cruising has a bright future. In terms of expansion, our aim is to spread into multiple rivers in the country. In the next five years, we hope to have 20 such ships in multiple rivers; we are in discussion for expansion in destinations like Goa, Odisha and Madhya Pradesh. Domestic tourism has opened a new vista for us,” he explained.
Analysing the debut year for the cruise line, Mediratta feels that they have thrived well despite challenges. “Year 2020 has been a good year for us. It taught us how to be resilient and adaptable. We changed our service offerings,” he said.