By Zahara Zuhair
With cruise tourism and yacht marinas being the fastest growing categories in the leisure travel market, as an island nation, these are the areas Sri Lanka should fix its focus on, Admiral Dr. Jayanath Colombage, a former Chief of Sri Lanka Navy and well-known authority on the maritime matters in the South Asia region, told a conference held in Colombo, recently.
“Cruise tourism, cruise terminal and yacht marinas are areas we need to look into. Everybody is saying Sri Lanka is beautiful and to see that beauty, we need to go around the coast. But where do we park our ships?
We don’t have enough facilities based on the monsoon winds to keep the yachts. We got limited facilities in Galle, little in Mirissa but hardly any other facilities,” he said.
Cruise tourism, which is a niche market, tends to bring in high-end travellers for whom Sri Lanka has the potential of becoming an exclusive destination, he pointed out.
According to the 2017 annual report of Cruise Liner International Association (CLIA), the world’s largest cruise industry association, a total of 24.2 million passengers cruised globally during the year 2016 and it is estimated that 25.3 million cruised globally in 2017.
Colombage said Sri Lanka also needs to think of yacht marinas in order for yachts to come.
Marinas (small harbours that operate luxury boats and cruise boats) are service providers of yachts so they could be evaluated as a main substructure of yacht tourism.
There are over 45,000 marinas in Europe, which offer 1.75 million berths for a total boat park of 6.3 million vessels.
Malaysia operates marinas with a berth count of 1400 yachts, Thailand 1,300 yachts and Singapore with only one-fifth of Sri Lanka’s coastal size can hold up to 750 yachts.
However, Sri Lanka despite having a 1300 kilometre coastal belt is yet to have its first-full size marina, offering a wide range of services, which will help boost local tourism, the boatbuilding industry and the economy in the long run.
Meanwhile, Colombage said that Sri Lanka was a maritime hub before the colonial masters took over the coastal areas, resulting in locals gradually losing the maritime touch. He said it’s high time that Sri Lanka work towards grabbing its old status in order to be a maritime gateway.
He said Sri Lanka should make use of the present world shipping scenarios, as the country is located close to the busiest maritime route and being at the doorstep of the world’s seventh largest economy— India.
Citing more positive indicators towards Sri Lanka’s dream of becoming a maritime hub, Colombage said that the Indian Ocean comprises of countries that are seeing rapid development with China initiating the One Belt One Road project, India initiating the Sagar Mala project and Asia-Africa Growth Corridor focusing to link Asia with Africa.
Sri Lanka is in an enviable location, where the busy East- West shipping route passes just 10 nautical miles south of the island. More than 60,000 ships ply this route annually carrying two-thirds of the world’s oil and half of all container shipments.
“We are a country with missed opportunities, that’s why even 70 years later we are what we are today. If we miss these opportunities it will never come again. This is the best time for us be a maritime hub,” he said.