Luxury cruise vessel opens new vistas for Sri Lanka’s tourism sector | Sunday Observer

Luxury cruise vessel opens new vistas for Sri Lanka’s tourism sector

25 June, 2023

When Cordelia Cruise’s luxury vessel MV Empress sailed into the Kankesanthurai (KKS) Port on June 19, it marked two milestones: First, it opened Jaffna and the Northern Province to an elite class of overseas travellers from India for the first time. Second, it gave lustre to the re-opening of the war-devastated KKS Port after its renovation by the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) with a US$ 45.17 million Indian Line of Credit. Therefore, the event symbolised Indo-Lanka development cooperation as well.

MV Empress is expected to bring a steady stream of high spending Indian travellers to Sri Lanka, which badly needs to augment its earnings from tourism given the paucity of dollars in the Treasury due to the pandemic and the economic crisis that followed. Empress will augment the ATR 72-600 air link offered four times a week from Chennai to Jaffna (Palali) by Alliance Air, a wholly owned subsidiary of Air India, itself now owned by Tata.

High-spending tourists

Sri Lanka earned US$ 530 million from tourism in the first quarter of 2023, compared to US$ 482.3 million in the corresponding period last year. But it needs to earn at least US$ 3 billion from tourism in 2023 and for this, it hopes to attract two million tourists from India alone. Sri Lanka desperately needs, not low-spending backpackers, but high-spending tourists who spend at least US$ 100 per day.

Enthused by the prospects, Minister of Shipping and Aviation, Nimal Sripala de Silva, said at a gathering in KKS: “We are thrilled to witness the docking of the magnificent MS Empress in Jaffna, marking the first time a large cruise ship has ever called at the KKS Port. This momentous occasion not only showcases the growing prominence of Jaffna as a sought-after tourist destination but also holds the potential to drive economic growth in the area. We envision a future where the region thrives as a flourishing hub of cultural heritage and vibrant economic activity.”

The passengers were on a round trip from Chennai in India and Hambantota in Sri Lanka via KKS and Trincomalee, one of the world’s best known natural harbours.

“We anticipate that the influx of tourists through this venture will stimulate various sectors, including hospitality, retail, transportation, and local businesses, creating a ripple effect of prosperity for the communities in and around all three regions, Hambantota, Trincomalee and Jaffna,” Minister de Silva said.

To attract Indian clientele, Cordelia Cruises have cut rates for the five-night Chennai- Hambantota-Trincomalee-Jaffna (KKS)-Chennai trip (Colombo is currently not a port of call). An Interior Cabin will cost INR 77,764 (down from INR 131,000) ; the Ocean View Cabin has come down from INR 158,000 to INR 93,043 and the Mini Suite from INR 241,000 to INR 107,048.


The Cordelia Cruise team and its Sri Lankan associate, Hayleys Advantis Group, have set the aim pretty high.

“Together with the Cordelia team, we aim to attract at least 80,000 visitors within the next four months alone, showcasing the diverse offerings of this country,” said Ruwan Waidyaratne, Managing Director of Advantis Group. Clarion Shipping, a subsidiary of the Advantis Group, will act as the Port Agent for Cordelia Cruises in Sri Lanka.

The MS Empress boasts of 796 cabins across five distinct categories, each fitted with state-of-the-art amenities, providing unparalleled luxury and comfort to its 1,600 passengers, according to the vessel’s publicity material. It is on par with the most famous ocean liners such as those belonging to Cunard and Silversea.

It promises a blend of lavish sailing experience, entertainment, and sports. Its restaurants serve mouthwatering Indian and International cuisine. A fitness centre caters to the health conscious. Magic shows and musical performances keep the young and old entertained. Above all, there is the panoramic view of the sea from most cabins with its calming effect on the mind.

However, Sri Lankan travel trade sources are somewhat cautious about the prospects of the venture, which is but the second in Sri Lanka’s recent history.

Scotia Prince, a luxury vessel, sailed between Tuticorin in Tamil Nadu (TN) and Colombo twice a week between June 2011 and November 2011 when it was suspended indefinitely due to a lack of clientele. It failed to attract customers despite the fare being 30 percent lower than the air fare and passengers could load goods worth 100 kg per person, compared to the maximum 30 Kg by air.


At that time, travel agents said that, ideally, the vessel should have run between Chennai and Colombo, as Tuticorin was way out of the main centre of activity in TN. As regards MV Express, the feeling is that it will make financial sense if Colombo is also included in the itinerary, as suggested by many travellers. Tourists will have a lot more to do in the capital city than in way out places like KKS, Trincomalee or Hambantota, trade sources said.

Tourism sector professionals in Colombo also said that the facilities in KKS, Trincomalee and Hambantota ports are still rudimentary (apart from the new terminal at KKS) and as such, it is difficult to generate clientele who will come back for a second round, or motivate others to take the trip. It would have been better if adequate infrastructure had been put up prior to the launching of the service, they said.

Trade circles note that unlike Scotia Prince, MV Empress is exclusively for passengers. In the context of the earlier failure of Scotia Prince to attract rich clientele, trade circles wonder if the new venture will succeed especially when there is no room for cargo. A good part of the travellers from India to Sri Lanka are traders, it is pointed out.

Another flaw in the venture is that it serves only Indians coming to Sri Lanka and not Sri Lankans wanting to go to India. “A person from Sri Lanka wanting to use MV Empress would have to reach Hambantota first. At Chennai he or she has to wait until the next sailing date or take a flight back to Sri Lanka,” they said.

Trade circles said that those in charge of the venture are under pressure to make it a success, and that too, within a tight timeframe. Hence the high voltage publicity campaign in India and also the cut rates.

If it succeeds, it could be a precursor to resume the lower-priced ferry service between the two countries, which was stopped once the war intensified in 1983. It could also attract the Singapore-based cruise operators to both India and Sri Lanka.