By Chandeepa Wettasinghe
The Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) has forwarded a proposal to the Cabinet to construct a cruise ship terminal in the Colombo Port.
“Yes we have, it’s still in the planning stage so we haven’t finalized the details,” SLPA Chairman Lakdas Panagoda told Mirror Business.
He noted that while the exact location within the Colombo Harbour, draft size or the investment amount have not been decided, investor interest has been growing.
“We already have investors who are interested in it but we first need the Cabinet approval,” he added.
Cruise tourism experts led by Gemini Travels Chairman Tony Mantara and Sri Lanka Association of Inbound Tour Operators (SLAITO) Cruise Tourism Expert Bernie Dole have been calling for a cruise terminal, the lack of which has been the biggest drawback to Sri Lanka harnessing the booming industry.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, during the recent election campaign, had also promised to develop a cruise ship terminal.
Due to its attraction of high-spending travellers, the cruise tourism segment had continued to grow consistently throughout and following the global economic crisis.
Further, cruise lines have significantly increased their presence in the Asian region with increased interest for short-length cruise travel from customers in Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, China and Australia. The traditional American and European travellers still account for around 80 percent of the market.
Sri Lanka is uniquely positioned, as Singapore-Dubai cruise is one of the busiest in the world.
“We need to ride with this wave and reap the benefit,” Dole said.
The lack of a cruise terminal has led to Sri Lanka not being able to cater to the latest trend of mega cruise ships, which carry around 4,000-6,000 passengers. The terminal will also act as a global communication hub and a local information centre.
Even for smaller cruise ships, passengers who arrived at the Colombo Port in the past have displayed an aversion to leaving the harbour due to the distance that has to be travelled from the berth to exiting the harbour and the lack of a regular ground transport service. This has led to Sri Lanka missing out on valuable foreign exchange.
Further, due to the short time span cruise travellers spend during a port call, Sri Lanka has only been able to market a handful of locations to them, such as Pinnawala.
Therefore, in addition to the logistics industry, the increased arrivals of cruise ships due to the presence of a cruise terminal would also lead to greater hospitality-based entrepreneurship around Colombo, Kandy and Galle. While certain cruise lines have started to call on Trincomalee as well, Panagoda said that Galle is also being looked at as a cruise port, which would increase a cruise ship’s number of port calls in Sri Lanka.
However, experts have said that the Galle harbour is too shallow to handle cruise ships.
They say that setting up of a terminal could also make Colombo a regional cruise ‘turn-around’ hub to debark and embark tourists in between cruises, thereby increasing demand for accommodation and airliners.
Meanwhile, the SLAITO is now attempting to woo cruise liners to set up their operations directly in Sri Lanka, rather than through Indian agents like in the past.
According to official government statistics, 14 cruise liners had called on Sri Lanka in 2012/13 with visitor arrivals of 19,615, whilst in 2013/2014 Sri Lanka attracted 22 cruise liners with arrival numbers going up to 27,317.
Estimates have placed this year’s arrivals at 40 liners with visitor numbers expected to exceed 50,000.