Yoga project opens luxury cruise vista in Asia-Pacific (Feature)

June 5th, 2008 - 11:45 am ICT by IANS  

By Madhusree Chatterjee
San ya City (China), June 5 (IANS) Shanti Devi, a 70-year-old Indian housewife, feels her life has changed on her first foreign trip - a luxury cruise on the South China sea combining tourism with yoga. She says yoga guru Ramdev’s easy breathing exercises have restored her energy and she is equally thankful to Star Cruises, which has made the “Yoga on Sea” project possible.

After spending an entire day shopping in this boomtown - San ya City means ‘twilight’ - Shanti Devi heads for a gala dinner on Superstar Virgo, one of the world’s biggest luxury liners cruising off the Chinese coast.

The yoga and Vedic lifestyle cruise on board the Superstar Virgo has been organised by the Hardwar Patanjali Yogpeeth (co-founded by Ramdev) and the Kolkata-based Vishwa Jagriti Mission.

For Star Cruises, it is one of the biggest “special interest cruises” with a group of 1,062 people from different countries on board for the Indian yoga tour.

“We have been developing the special interest cruise segment for the past three years. The first benefit of our efforts was seen last year when more than 260 people boarded Supertsar Virgo for a seven-day spiritual discourse. Yoga on Sea is a feather in our cap,” Sumit Banerji, senior marketing and sales manager in charge of northern and eastern India and Nepal, Star Cruises, told IANS.

Star Cruises, one of the biggest luxury cruise operators in the Asia-Pacific region, is building its brand in India.

Its target audience is the family segment in the tier two and the tier three Indian cities, which are witnessing an economic boom post-globalisation and more foreign travel.

According to Star Cruises officials, one of the major components of their new “special interest tourism projects” is health and spiritual cruises like the ongoing five-day Yoga on Sea.

Star Cruises, set up in September 1993 to make the Asia-Pacific coast an international cruise destination, has seen “exponential growth” in two core segments in India - the family holiday sector and MICE (Meeting, Incentive, Convention and Exhibition) tourism - since last year.

“We are trying to grow as a leading brand in the family segment, without removing our focus from business travel. The special interest cruises fall under the family segment which has always been our priority in India,” Banerji said.

An estimate by the Pacific-Asia Travel Association (PATA) says nearly eight million Indians travel abroad every year and outbound travel from India has been growing at 10.15 percent every year since 2001.

International tour operators put the outbound tourism boom to rapid economic growth, competitive pricing, new airports in urban heartlands, air liberalisation which facilitates connectivity, and the rise of the Indian middle class.

Tourists love the relaxed nature of the holidays.

Eighty-year-old H.P. Nopany, a former shipping tycoon from Kolkata who now heads the Shipowners’ and Agents’ Association, says the “overall feeling of being part of a spiritual cruise is very nice”.

“The ship is comfortable and the ambience is so clean. There is virtually no pollution. I have been eating so much more since I boarded the ship,” Nopany told IANS.

A typical day on the Yoga on Sea cruise begins with two hours of yoga and prayers at sunrise, followed by meals, activity sessions, sight-seeing, a late-afternoon discourse and entertainment at night.

“A perfect holiday should be fused with positive thinking. If yoga and pranayam (breathing exercise) are added to a holiday, a person becomes re-energised, gets a better insight into the self and becomes more productive,” explains S.K. Tijarawala, spokesperson for Patanjali Yogpeeth and the owner of a leading advertising agency, Combine.

For most tourists, “Indian holistic cruises” are a new concept.

“It is a great way to de-stress. Yoga and traditional Indian lifestyle cruises can open up a new spectrum of tourism in the country,” says Kolkata-based industry baron Purushottam Jalan.

He feels Vedic cruises can be sold as a viable holiday option to Westerners, most of whom go on cruises to gamble in the casinos and enjoy the night life on luxury liners.

Says industrialist Sushil Goenka: “It is a blend of the East and the West. We begin our day with prayers and end with gala shows and an opportunity to explore the unknown. This is the ultimate symbol of healthy living. Look at the number of senior citizens who are on board, they are so secure on the ship.”

“Two things work in favour of such holidays,” explains Sanjay Jha of Discovery Travel and Tours. One, such holistic holidays ensure full family participation fetching the maximum numbers for the tour operator. And, second, people can fulfil their fantasy of sailing on high seas without confronting the risks involved, he said.

“And, moreover, they can go to bed at night feeling happy that they have not betrayed their gods in their rush to enjoy life. The feeling is so Indian,” Jha said.

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