India, blessed with a coastline which is of 7,516.6 km and with as many as nine coastal states is now flexing its muscles for a stake in the $ 10 trillion global Blue Economy. The Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government have identified the maritime & shipping sector as a priority area and efforts to promote cruise tourism have given a new fillip to India’s aspirations to make a mark in this lucrative market.

In the “New India” of today, luxury superyachts are a matter of gossip in high society parties and boardrooms. Already, Ferretti – one of the world’s renowned yacht manufacturers has set up an office in India and gradually Indians are awakening to the sheer immensity of nautical experiences that has remained unexplored thus far.

The signal from 7, Lok Kalyan Marg – the official residence of the Prime Minister is as clear as daylight. In 2017, the Prime Minister himself was seen boarding a seaplane in Gujarat as part of his government’s efforts to promote aqua tourism big-time and consistent with his government’s proactive approach towards developing India’s Cruise Tourism, the Prime Minister inaugurated India's first-ever seaplane service between the Statue of Unity near Kevadiya in Gujarat's Narmada district and the Sabarmati Riverfront on 31st October last year.

Sarbananda Sonowal, India’s new Shipping Minister is known to be a visionary man and being a native of Assam, I have seen firsthand, the meteoric rise of Shri Sarbananda Sonowal, who hails from the quaint Upper Assam town of Dibrugarh - from a student politician to the Chief Minister of India’s North-eastern state of Assam - a position he held with great dignity from 24 May 2016 to 9 May 2021.

What is so special about Mr. Sonowal? Well, the fact that he is a native Assamese and having been exposed to the vagaries of the turbulent Brahmaputra River since his childhood; coupled with the fact that his constituency Majuli – the world’s largest river island, located bang in the middle of the mighty Brahmaputra River, has taught him maritime lessons on management of waterways. After all, taming the Brahmaputra River is no mean task, with scientists working round the clock to stop the river’s rapidly shifting tendencies!

Thus, it is in the fitness of things that India’s shipping industry is now blessed with a man who is knowledgeable in matters pertaining to maritime infrastructure, development of coastal tourism circuits and the overall global maritime scenario.

Maritime experts are unanimous in their opinion that India, with its vast coastline, has tremendous potential for yacht & cruise tourism, but are weighed down by high taxes, inadequate infrastructure, and pollution.

One of the marine industry’s most sought after events is the annual Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, which is by far the largest in-water assembly of boats and marine products. The five-day event attracts yacht/ship manufacturers, brokers, and marine service professionals.

In the words of Andrew Doole, president of U.S. Boat Shows:

We are excited to welcome back the global community of visitors and exhibitors to the 2021 Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show. In 2020, we were able to host an incredibly successful event that exceeded industry expectations despite the pandemic, and we anticipate that the 2021 boat show will raise the bar even higher for boating exhibitions.

With demand for boating products at an all-time peak, the 62nd annual FLIBS, like its preceding years, will offer a never before melange of consumers and exhibitors. The best part of FLIBS is the great opportunity that it provides for face-to-face consumer-exhibitor meetings.

The manner in which the Marine Industries Association of South Florida, which has been pioneering this one-of-a-kind boat show is a lesson for India Inc. when it comes to promoting the A to Z of the marine world in such an impeccable manner. It all began way back in 1961, as a not-for-profit trade group with a singular motto of expanding the marine industry in the South Florida Region.

For many years FLIBS has been playing the role of a catalyst when it comes to the question of propelling the marine economy. In 2019, the economic impact of FLIBS was pegged at a staggering $1.3 billion and $714 million in marine products sold. Spectacular by any standards, ain’t it?

Open-air outdoor spaces are a trademark feature of FLIBS where exhibitors, consumers and lay visitors come together to enjoy one of the greatest water spectacles on planet earth.

Apart from the dedicated Superyacht Village, there is the Windward VIP Club – with an air of exclusivity written all over, offering the discerning visitors fascinating views of the boat show. From high-end open bar to the very best of world cuisines, the Windward VIP Club does pack a punch. And, for those craving for a truly personal and intimate experience of the boat show, a bewildering variety of aqua sports and marine products are on offer at the Aqua Zone.

With India on the verge of a maritime revolution and with a government which is focused on developing its marine infrastructure, an India Pavilion at FLIBS could be the perfect setting to let the world know about what’s brewing inside India’s Shipping & Tourism sector. Be it the government’s flagship Sagarmala programme, the Maritime India Vision 2030 or for that matter the country’s domestic shipbuilding and repair avenues; it is about time India’s shipping & tourism industry mandarins consider the option of participating in one of the world’s greatest boat shows – the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show for a truly fantastic shipping & tourism vignette for the discerning world community to fathom.

India’s dynamic Minister of Shipping – Sarbananda Sonowal is known to dream big and to put it succinctly in his own words:

To encourage domestic shipbuilding, the Shipbuilding Financial Assistance Policy for Indian Shipyards has been approved. Consistent efforts have been put towards the development of a robust and sustainable infrastructure for facilitating the transformation of the sector into an engine of growth for India. The government is working towards positioning the Indian maritime sector at par with international standards by attracting domestic as well as international investments.

The fact that India has the potential to become an indigenous ship-building hub has time and again been quoted by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh:

Most countries do not even have this level of budget for a whole year. And it is expected to increase manifold in the next five years. In such a situation, today we have great scope to make full use of our capabilities, take advantage of policies, and move towards making the country an indigenous shipbuilding hub.

India came up with its very own Cruise Shipping Policy way back in 2008 with the objective of making India an attractive cruise tourism destination. The Policy covers all the nitty-gritty of converting India into a Cruise Hub - state-of-the-art infrastructure, attracting the right segment of the foreign tourist market, popularizing cruise tourism within the domestic market, etc.

Significantly, the Ministry of Tourism too has accorded top priority to the promotion of Cruise Shipping under its "New Initiatives" ambit. There is a Steering Committee in place under the chairmanship of Secretary (Shipping) which acts as a nodal body dealing on all issues pertaining to Cruise Tourism. Joint Secretary, Ministry of Tourism happens to be the Member Secretary of this Committee. The Ministry of Tourism has been giving top priority to schemes that directly or indirectly support the development of ports, purchase of vessels, development of river cruise circuits, etc.

As a proud Indian and a travel journalist, I look forward to the day when an exclusive India Pavilion will be on the exhibitor’s list at the world’s biggest boat show on Earth – the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show that will rock the maritime world on the strength of its long coastline, tremendous potential and stupendous diversity!