I’m not on your traditional river cruise. And I don’t just say that because I’m sailing along India’s Ganges River, a waterway that generally conjures up images of people bathing in its brown waters and of spiritual ceremonies along its banks, not a of luxury river cruiser gliding past its shores.
The cruise I’m on is unusual because it is an inspection cruise for Haimark Ltd.’s 56-passenger Ganges Voyager, slated to set sail here in 2015. A group of representatives from various river cruise and tour companies are scouting the experience using the slightly older 56-passenger Bengal Ganga, operated by Indian company Heritage Cruises.
Consequently, I’m getting a rare glimpse into the world of river cruise product development. Representatives from Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection, Scenic Cruises and Travel Indochina are here to see what Haimark could offer their clients in terms of land experiences and food and beverage, Since the hardware is still being built, they can’t experience the new ship, but Haimark has brought its culinary director onboard to produce the exact menus that would be served on the Ganges Voyager, and the itinerary we are sailing is the exact itinerary the Ganges Voyager will sail in 2015.
The result is an evolving dialogue about what Western visitors might want and expect from a cruise in India. The hope is that a river cruise vessel with upscale accommodations and a first-class culinary experience (minimizing the risk of severe stomach issues India is notorious for), coupled with the rich culture and history of West Bengal will appeal to river-cruise veterans who are looking to extend their experience in Europe or Asia to another destination.
What is interesting is the nonstop discussions on the passenger experience: Is there a better way to see Kolkata than through the windows of a tour bus? Is it better to visit Delhi at the end of the trip when travelers are more rested? Are there different interactive experiences or onboard lectures and classes that could enhance the learning opportunities?
Some of it is guesswork, and some of the ideas are developed from experience and feedback gathered from river cruises and tours elsewhere in the world.
Do people want to see poverty in India? Well, that’s part of the India experience, right? How much Indian food versus Western food should be on the menu? Well, there should be a bit of both on offer, right?
It’s an evolving process, but getting a behind-the-scenes look at the amount of thought and effort that goes into the product development offers, at the very least, a certain degree of confidence that planning and executing an itinerary is not something that is taken lightly. It’s an intense and difficult task, and I’ve gained additional respect for it now that I’ve gotten to witness it firsthand.