Nautical tourism will help economic development | Sunday Observer

Nautical tourism will help economic development

22 January, 2017
Sri Lanka in comparison, with its 1,340 km-shoreline can do wonders in the area of marine or nautical tourism

Media reports recently quoted Tourism Minister John Amaratunga as saying that his Ministry hoped to raise the country’s tourism industry to the status of the highest forex earner by the year 2020.

Well known tour operator and hotelier, Dr. Dietmar Döering says that the goal set by the Tourism Ministry is certainly attainable.

“While conceding that Sri Lanka has all the essential elements to transform Minister Amaratunga’s fervent hope into reality, I wish to emphasize the vast potential in existence for developing marine or nautical tourism and if this segment of tourism is properly tapped, there is the possibility of reaching the goal set by the Minister even before 2020,” Dr. Döering told this correspondent.


Dr. Doering who pioneered sports tourism in Sri Lanka through the Asian-German Sports Exchange Program (AGSEP) which he founded about three decades ago recalled that the International Council of Marine Industry Association (ICOMIA) turned the spotlight on Sri Lanka’s potential for nautical tourism when they held their annual sessions in Colombo in October 2014.

“In fact, on that occasion, Managing Director of marina consultancy firm, Arrol Ltd., Simon J. Arrol pointed out the urgent need for Sri Lanka to set up marinas to tap the full potential of the country’s marine/nautical tourism. However, this segment of the tourist industry received little or no attention since then, possibly due to intervening political development,” Dr. Döering said.

Conservation policy

The AGSEP founder also emphasized the importance of a conservation policy on marine resources and the strict enforcement of laws enacted for the purpose.

“Government should declare the country’s waters abounding with corals, mammals such as dolphins and whales as well as other tourist assets as marine reserves to protect them from undesirable human activity.

The government also has to take measures to create public awareness of the value and importance of our marine resources,” he said.

Excerpts of the interview

Q: Development of marinas supported by essential infrastructure, an imperative for Nautical Tourism, is obviously a task thrust on the state. This task warrants a sizable investment. How can a government saddled with a heavy debt-servicing burden raise sufficient funds to make such a massive investment?

A: Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) provide the most suitable and pragmatic solution to this general challenge of funding. In fact, PPPs are becoming more and more popular, especially in significant infrastructure projects such as the development of yacht marinas in countries such as Cyprus, Egypt, Greece, India, Indonesia, Malta, Poland and the USA where nautical tourism is well established. Sri Lanka too can follow suit.

Given Sri Lanka’s current heavy debt servicing commitment, the public collaboration in proposed PPP yacht marina development projects could be kept at a significantly low level. The government, as a matter of fact, may even decide not to have a stake in such projects.

In fact, there is a much more productive role for it to play for the development of nautical tourism in general and marinas in particular: implementing the one-stop-shop concept to facilitate foreign and local investors. Such a body will enable the investors to complete a wide range of administrative procedures quickly and accurately virtually under one roof.

Such a fast-track approval system sans bureaucratic obstacles would serve as a great incentive for potential international investors simply because ‘time is money’.

Being an investor, in Sri Lanka, I am personally aware of numerous instances of investor withdrawals from planned projects because of bureaucratic hindrance and time waste due to what you may call red tape.

Q: You assert that there is a vast potential for developing nautical tourism in Sri Lanka. But well developed marinas and ports are a prerequisite for nautical tourism. Do you think there are locations along the country’s shoreline ideally suited for developing marinas?

A: With over 1,300 km shoreline at hand, there are several suitable locations in Sri Lanka. The newly explored East coast, even Sri Lanka’s northern shores are ideal for this venture. Kalpitya with a vast marine life – whales and dolphin populations in particular and also the entire West, North-West and Southern coast are recommendable.

Top diving spots in the East, for example, the site of the wreckage of the SSS Hermes - the only aircraft carrier grounded in an ocean - sunk by the Japanese Air Force during the World War 2 could be turned into major tourist attractions.

In fact, when looking at the density of marinas bordering the Adriatic Sea (Croatia’s shoreline), one will notice that Croatia has 56 marinas on a stretch of 600 km from Split to Rijeka which means roughly for each 10 km stretch, there is one marina or a port of boating set up. Sri Lanka in comparison, with its 1,340 km-shoreline can do wonders in the area of marine or nautical tourism. Marinas in combination with mixed development projects including condominiums for locals for permanent occupancy and for foreign tourists seeking a long stay in the island and hotels for short term visitors or tourists are sure to become popular tourist destinations.

Q: What are the specific attractions and recreational activities for tourists available in marine environments you have in mind?

A: Apart from a white, powdery and gorgeous beach in front of the marina or a fresh water pool for a swim, there will be a lot of other special attractions on offer for guests. Bars, restaurants, cafes, nightly entertainment, a gym and a supermarket.

Speaking of marina–based tourism, the key features will be the recreational navigation, organized with one’s own or rented boats, accommodation and/or over nights on board. There will be also trips organized by cruising ship owners and travel agencies. Another aim of a marina is to create a scene for yachts tourism by organizing events such as regattas, sailing weeks and charter boat shows.

Other than that, guests can enjoy underwater activities (e.g. scuba diving, underwater photographing) and offshore fishing. Sri Lanka is well-known for the vast population of whales and dolphins and top diving spots in the sea around the island.

The humpback and the blue whales as well as the Spinner, Bottlenose or Risso’s dolphins are the most common in the sea around Sri Lanka.

At the East Coast, there’s also the outstanding possibility for an expedition exploring the HMS Hermes Wreck, which is the World’s First Purpose Built Aircraft Carrier, just to outline only one extraordinary diving spot in Sri Lanka.

Q: Are there specific locations on Sri Lanka’s coastal stretches with a potential for nautical tourism where other segments of the tourist industry are already found in a developed state?

A: Negombo and Hambantota are cities with somewhat developed tourism-friendly infrastructure whereas Point Pedro, Kalkuda, Kalpitya are places on the seaboard ideally suited for establishing marinas though these have yet to witness any significant development.

Q: What are the prospects of attracting foreign investors to nautical tourism in a big way?

A: First of all, Nautical tourism is virtually virgin territory for Sri Lanka but being a highly profitable market in all the countries which are operating Marinas.

In comparison to developments in countries in the Asian region 30 years ago, Sri Lanka is in exactly the same position now with a booming real estate development in Colombo and without an immediate saturation in sight. Other Asian capital cities such as Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok experienced similar developments in the past with initial massive real estate development in these capitals and after reaching a certain degree of saturation, investors divert their investments into the periphery in more rural undeveloped areas such as Pattaya or Hua Hin.

In the meantime, even the periphery in Thailand’s beach destinations is experiencing a dramatic boost of high-rise condominium and hotel development.

Q: Can you briefly state the benefits that could accrue from nautical tourism for the people in this country?

A: There will be a tremendous increase in direct and indirect employment opportunities for about 700 full or semi-skilled employees on an average for one marina compound in combination with a mixed development accounting for say, two condominium towers and one 5-star beach resort which too would provide employment opportunities to several hundreds.

In fact, a completely new target group of tourists in the sense of high market earners and spenders will be attracted. Sri Lanka could make a good start by using already built up marinas, which are in fact small harbours to operate luxury boats and cruise boats. It is self-explanatory that the owners of these yachts are well financed and along with them, a total different class of investors and tourists will start visiting Sri Lanka. Marinas around the island will certainly give a welcome fillip to Sri Lanka’s upcoming boat-building industry.

I understand the boats made in this country have already got a good foreign market and are popular in many countries. All in all, nautical tourism could become a forex spinner in the short-term and an important element in the country’s economic growth in the long run.