First ever marina-based mixed development project at Marawila | Sunday Observer

First ever marina-based mixed development project at Marawila

26 March, 2017
A marina in Europe
A marina in Europe

The German academic, Dr. Dietmar Doering, who pioneered sports tourism in Sri Lanka through the Asian-German Sports Exchange Program (AGSEP) he founded about three decades ago, being a tour operator and a hotelier as well, had always taken a keen interest in the country’s tourism industry.

The vast knowledge he acquired from his studies of the industry from a global perspective over the years had convinced him that a very important segment of the country’s tourism industry, namely marine or nautical tourism, which could be a veritable money spinner for the country, has long been neglected.

Dr. Doering says, “The marinas-based tourism is a totally new maritime concept for Sri Lanka though it is well established even in neighboring Asian countries. In Europe, marinas are cornerstones for high-end nauticaltourism generating significant revenues. According to the European Commission this segment of the tourism industry generates around 15 billion Euros a year and has provided over 300.000 job opportunities.”

Sunday Observer interview

Dr. Doering at a previous meeting with this correspondent spoke with missionary zeal about the vast potential for nautical tourism lying untapped in this country and the great contribution it could make towards economic development. An article based on excerpts of this interview was carried in the business section of the Sunday Observer in its issue of January 22 this year.

This article set a chain of events in motion, said Dr. Doering who met this correspondent recently. Many business colleagues commended the views and proposals contained in the article and some of them had suggested that Dr. Dietmar Doering could set the ball rolling by embarking on a nautical tourism venture himself.

Meanwhile, a number of foreign investors got in touch with him to get more information on the prospects of starting nautical tourism-related projects in the country. The most significant event thrown up by the Sunday Observer article was a prominent Singaporean investor/developer coming forward to start a marina-based mixed development in partnership with him.

Dr. Dietmar who welcomed the unforeseen turn of events felt further encouraged when a Chinese contractor expressed his desire to have a stake in the proposed project.

Excerpts of the interview:

Q: We understand that you have already buckled down to real business - to take the lead in setting up marinas in the country starting with one at Marawila – the location of your headquarters. What inspired you to transform yourself from an ardent advocate of nautical tourism to a prospective marina developer within such a short time?

A: One can say that there is a huge potential for nautical tourism in Sri Lanka but, there has to be someone to take the initiative to translate the good idea into reality. Sri Lanka’s Tourism is far behind that of most South and East Asian countries in terms of tourist arrivals. In comparison to other East Asian countries, for example Malaysia, Sri Lanka generates only a fraction of tourist arrivals it is quite capable of attracting to its shores.

Nearly 23 million tourists visit Malaysia a year compared to some 1.7 million tourist arrivals in Sri Lanka. When it comes to fund generation (USD) through tourism, Sri Lanka is not even listed among the first 15 Asian countries as the chart shows.

I am inspired by the fact that we have been able to put in place within a very brief period a suitable network here and abroad supporting the launch of the first ever Marina-based mixed development project inSri Lanka.

Several Singaporean developers/investors, a Chinese contractor’s finance and very capable and experienced Marina constructors from Europe have formed a consortium.

On Sri Lanka’s side, Minister of Tourism John Amaratunga looks set to do his best to promote marina-based tourism in the country. Minister of Rehabilitation and Resettlement, S.M. Swaminathan is keen on launching meaningful marina-based development projects in the North and East.

Q: Who are your Sri Lankan partners in this mega project?

A: Well-known entrepreneur Hiran Jayakody is my local partner in this project.

Q: What are the main components of the proposed mixed development project? What is the estimated total cost of the project?

A: We will have one marina for 100 yachts, two condominiums with 150 apartments each and a 5-star hotel with 200 suites. The estimated cost of the project is US $ 130 million.

Q: When do you hope to launch the project and have it ready for commissioning?

A: The consortium expects to launch the construction work by the end of this year or early next year and commission it by 2020/21 depending on timely clearances and approvals from various authorities both at the national level and at the periphery.

Q: In fact, you didn’t make any mention about your interest in making an investment in a Marina-based mixed development project at Marawila at the time you discussed this topic on marinas with me in January?

A:You are right. I, as a tour operator, hotelier and the AGSEP CEO, have already got enough irons in the fire, so to speak. I was greatly inspired and encouraged to embark on this project by the feedback from the article that appeared in the Sunday Observer!

Q: Can you please make a few observations relating to Sri Lanka’s environment for economic development from the perspective of your personal experience?

A: I have bee in tourism here for the past 35 years. We, investors in general had to go through a challenging time and struggle for survival due to the fallout from the protracted internal conflict here and the negative image created abroad as a concomitant result.

A wise economic expert once said, “Financial shortcomings are the best teaching ground for learning to manage finances.” Now that peace has returned and there is a political climate ideal for making investments, we have to double up our efforts to put the country back on the path leading to sustainable development.

Coming back to the unhappy days when we had to meet formidable challenges as investors and entrepreneurs, I must say that I never favoured the leisure tourism section only.

Given the situation which witnessed a lack of financial means and a no go for foreigners in general to draw loans from Sri Lanka banks, innovation was the only key for my hotels to make a living for me and my staff. Sports tourism at that time was unknown as nautical tourism is now.

However, within a brief time of launching the Asian -German Sports Exchange Programme, we were able to put Sri Lanka on the world map as a friendly country with good sportsmen/women looking forward to welcoming foreign sports teams and encountering them in friendly and bonding matches.

Especially in the 90s over 5,.000 German sports club members visited Sri Lanka which means for a purpose quite different from what attracts the normal tourist. Sportspeople in general seek the close contact and friendship of peoples from other nations and this is exactly what happened here under our Program. Now the need of the hour is to open the eyes of those living in a jungle, but unable to spot a single tree. That’s a German phrase and it holds significance for Sri Lankans as well. Sri Lanka’s beauty is so unique, but people living in one of the most beautiful islands of the world, appear not to have seen and admired the natural beauty of their island. The beaches in particular are presently used solely for sea and sunbathing, which of course is an enjoyable pastime for tourists but not necessarily a very big money spinner for Sri Lanka’s tourism industry.

When it comes to nautical tourism and we talk about motor and sailing yachts on the high end luxury level. There is a 1,300 km shoreline of pure beauty to be viewed by yachting around the island; something some countries, not only islands, had discovered long ago and explored and meaningfullyexploited with no damage to the natural environment. Of course, that is what sustainable tourism is all about.

My Sport Hotel in Marawila has a beach front and would be the ideal spot to launch the first pilot project for a Marina in Sri Lanka, and we have projected for this purpose.

Our location would also set a signal: that high rise developments are not restricted to Colombo and that Sri Lanka is open for realistic tourism development projects island- wide -apressing need of the hour when the government is desperately trying to attract FDI to overcome its economic crisis.

Q: What are the highlights of the feedback on the article published in the Sunday Observer?

A: In fact, the responses were overwhelming both from the private and public sector and surprisingly from Maldives, Canada and India, three countries we did not expect to show much interest. The key contacts for the development of a Marina from Europe was the most vital feedback which we received from this last publication.

Q: We understand that you had talks with Ministers Amaratunga and Swaminathan on your Marina-related plans. Were their responses positive and encouraging?

A:Very encouraging, very positive – and especially with Minister Swaminathan we have held continuous meetings, since the locations in the north are remote and more challenging for infrastructural developments. Minister Amaratunga, who was always helpful to us during the Sports Tourism period asked us to keep him updated on the ongoing process.

Q: Have you already reached agreements with the Chinese contractor and the Singaporean collaborator?

A: We were able to contract an outstanding architectural firm (Design consortium, Migara Alwis). The quality of work of the Design consortium in their numerous projects in Sri Lankahas been highly commended and having a Design Consortium on board was one important criterion for getting the foreign collaborators on board too. The most important co-partner of this project is Mr. Hiran Jayakody, who is well known and respected by all key decision makers in Sri Lanka is a pillar of strength to the project. Mr. Jayakody was, in fact, instrumental in getting the Singaporean and Chinese partners for our Marawila project.

Q: What are the tax concessions you expect the government to extend to you?

A: As the project is to be undertaken by a fully-fledged BOI- approved company and it will be entitled to tax benefits as per existing law.

Q:Are you in contact with the BOI and other state agencies involved in the process of obtaining formal final approval and tax concessions for the proposed project?

A: The process has already been initiated and we hope to receive an early approval so that we could start the first Marina project in Marawila on schedule.

Q: Have you already identified the sites for the marina-based development projects along the North -East shoreline?

A: A couple of sites has been introduced to our group.We are in contact with the relevant Minister at this moment exploring the existing infrastructures. In fact, we are looking also to the coastal line of Batticaloa for a third project with the same features.