Our Coasts and Gold Coasts
- D C Sekhar, Director, AlphaMERS Pvt Ltd

While India is naturally gifted with a vast coastline of almost 7500 km; expect some beaches and the occasional watersports, the country do not have any waterfront destination - dinner cruises, yacht marinas, cruise berths, the skiing, oceanarium, etc at one destination like at Gold coasts and Sydney Harbors. The author opines that the nation, where the consumer market is enviably the largest anyone can hope for and a vast middle class with excellent spending power and comes with an appetite to try anything new, has the all ability to become world-class ‘touristy’ stuff having oceanarium, water rides, glass bottom boats, tourist submarine, or snorkeling within artificial reefs and some serious competitive sports like competitive skiing, sailing regatta or perhaps wind surfing.

India has over 7500 km of coastline and warm water around us. We have a billion plus population that has an appetite for adventure tours, rafting, gliding, cruises, watching heritage buildings, visiting temples and whatever have you. But we do not have a waterfront destination yet - by this, I do not mean the beaches and the occasional watersports. I mean the dinner cruises, yacht marinas, cruise berths, the skiing, oceanarium, etc at one destination - I mean the Gold coasts and Sydney Harbors.

Is this not possible in India?
Quite on the contrary, all it needs it certain push of the right buttons. Before you smother me with the tales of red tape and challenges in India, let me interrupt you with the argument – Opportunities still exist in India because we are not yet the perfect country to do business. Given a viable project, yes, the gates will open, albeit with a bit of creaking.

We have few ingredients that are basic to such a project. The consumer market is enviably the largest you can hope for. A middle class with excellent spending power and comes with an appetite to try anything new. In simple words, if you get the formula right, you have a blockbuster the next Friday.

The draft i.e., ‘water depth’ requirements for these attractions are usually less. Hence these locations do not naturally lend themselves to be developed as a large port and consequently do not impose the opportunity cost.

What are these attractions?
These can be broadly classified into the ‘touristy’ stuff and some serious competitive sports. The former is fit for the whole family to ‘try their hand at it’ or walk through, devouring the sights and sounds. Some of these are oceanarium, water rides, glass bottom boats, tourist submarine, or snorkeling within artificial reefs. The serious competitive sport would mean competitive skiing, sailing regatta or perhaps wind surfing.

A yacht marina provides parking space for the real sailor with sealegs and a passion for riding the waves. It also safe parking space to those who only want to flaunt their expensive assets on water. In any case, it is always a great picture postcard image for any state tourism board.

The conventional skiing is fast giving way to cable ski parks, in a limited waterspace of 1 sq km. 4 to 5 skiiers hone their skiing skills simultaneously, without use of a single boat. The activity always has a constant stream of tourists lining up to try their hand.

Oceanarium is a typical walk through tourist attraction for a whole family. It can be the size of Sentosa or something ten 10 times larger. Costs vary from a most basic USD 5 million to anything upward of a USD 100 million. I had a very interesting conversation with an international oceanarium designer on converting an old tween deck ship into an oceanarium, utilising all its ready piping and machinery.

On Karwar beach, there is a decommissioned warship kept on blocks on land, for the benefit of tourists. Though a modest sized vessel, the erstwhile ambience of the vessel is well preserved and is a treat to any tourist. For a non-mariner, this is an interesting insight and revelation into what life onboard the naval vessel is like. Imagine if you lay your hands on the legendary Vikrant and convert to a museum cum floatel. When last known, this vessel was going for a paltry ` 60 crores to the scrapyard. Imagine converting this to a floatel and a conference venue. Imagine having the networking dinner party on its magnificent flight deck. The host can justifiably walk with colorful feathers tucked in his cap. Those in the industry are aware that the vessel is under 20,000 tons of lightweight or steel weight and any section of steel or the machinery can be renewed as you want and when you want for a certain cost. If you think that is expensive, you must look up the prices of a star hotel on land.

Cruise Berth: The Cruise sector is caught in the vicious cycle of uneconomy of scale, leading to high costs and erratic quality of services at few ports. Making a cruise berth is by itself not enough to kick start cruise activity. But let us leave that story for another day. Having a budget for a breakwater opens up many more choices for locating the waterfront destination in tranquil waters. Once the breakwater is made, a cruise berth inside the breakwater is a logical next step.

Get Going towards Destination
There are many other options ranging from sailboat circuits to underwater restaurants, glass bottom boats in large fish tanks, wig-jet planes, Crystal lagoons and many such attractions. It may be borne in mind that a marina operator will not operate the cable ski and vice versa. It thus remains the promoter role to identify the suitable location on the coast, carry out the feasibility studies, acquire land, master plan, develop common use infrastructure like roads and breakwater, set environmental, safety and security standards, and undertake the brand management of the entire destination. The individual operators of marina or skiing or oceanarium will then step in within this master plan.

It is heartening to note that we have the coast and the market within the country. That is a great starting point.