Nautical  tourism and its potential for Sri Lanka’s economic development


Nautical tourism and related recreational markets are lucrative and constantly growing. According to the European Commission, they generate nearly €15 billion annually and provide over 300,000 jobs in the world. This  form of tourism, which besides the recreational navigation organised with one’s own or rented boats, accommodation and/or over nights on board, apparently includes marine or nautical tours organised by cruise  ship owners and travel agencies as well as cabin cruisers for the tourists’ vacationing  and seasonal   recreation.

Sri Lanka boasts of 1,340 km of pristine beaches which  are currently used  in the  perspective of tourism,  mainly as a leisure element, sea bathing, surfing and boating. However, in comparison to other countries which carry a similar positive criteria of being surrounded by beautiful beaches, such as Malaysia, Thailand, The Maldives in the Asian region – Sri Lanka still lacks the numbers.  While Malaysia enjoys arrivals of over 22 million tourist arrivals per annum, Thailand receives  around 14 million tourists. The Maldives caters to over 1.2 million tourists per annum. Sri Lanka, according to figures by the Sri Lanka Tourism Authority merely has under two million arrivals per annum or even less.

In  2012, there were 4,500 marinas in the EU coastal and inland waters, with a turnover of six billion Euros for ship-building. At present, around 2,000 marinas are seen in Northern Europe, 800 on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, and 1,200 in the Mediterranean sea.  

Why Sri Lanka lags behind 

The reasons for Sri Lanka  ‘lagging behind’  in the development of this sector are mainly due to the  lack of suitable facilities for tourists as a whole. According to experts in the sector, while the economies  mentioned above do enjoy a larger presence of shopping centres, entertainment areas, recreational facilities such as state-of-the-art spas and theme parks etc., Sri Lanka is far behind, still calling for action to develop similar infrastructures to cater to clients who are considered affluent and not cash-strapped world-wide.

 This emphasises  that it is pivotal  that Sri Lanka should  take a special interest in thinking beyond beaches and develop Nautical Tourism as a special niche in the new phase of tourism development of the island nation.

Potential to be rightly focused via PPPs

 Sri Lanka’s commercial port sector at its diverse locations such as Colombo in the West, Galle in the South and Trincomalee in the East can undoubtedly work harmoniously and hand in hand with Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) taking the fullest advantage of the island’s geographical location in the Indian Ocean to develop the Nautical Tourism sector distinctively and competitively in the region.

Colombo Port City international marina

Announcing a new era in the recreation industry of South Asia, the most modern and largest international marina in the Colombo Port City area has been completed at present. The first project to be completed in the framework of the landscape of Colombo Port City will attract more than USD 500 million in the next few years.

The Yacht Marina when fully operational will be on a 44 acre land and will have the facility to anchor 200 yachts making it one of the largest such venues in the region. The area will also have a mini yacht repairing facility, duty free terminal, Customs and facilities for several other maritime related businesses.

Developments of ports of Galle and Trincomalee

Meanwhile, a yacht marina has been discussed for over two decades by successive governments for Galle and Trincomalee as well.

The proposed yacht marina for Galle is to be centred round the buildings of related infrastructure for yacht tourists for not only berthing their vessels but also accommodation. There will also be separate restaurant facilities. The Port will be developed as a tourist hub as well, where there will be facilities for the repair and servicing for leisure vessels, which will add to foreign exchange generation.

According to a recent development proposal for Galle, nearly 40 acres of land adjacent to the port of Galle were to be reclaimed to be leased to investors for mixed development projects. The project worth USD million 175 for initial investment proposed by the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA)   includes two offshore breakwaters of 850M and 150M length to calm waters in the Galle harbour, a quay wall with a draft of 12.5M and 150M length, dredging of the access channel and the port water basin, construction of facilities for maritime activities and construction of a new road access at Phase I. The project will also include the construction of a modern cruise terminal and cruise berths capable of accommodating the largest cruise vessels in the world. Luxury conveniences such as star class hotels and super condominiums will also be constructed.  The investments are expected through prospective EOI and RFP processes.

At present, the SLPA is also in the process to re-develop Trincomalee as a metropolis growth centre. SLPA has completed a zoning plan to utilise the huge amount of existing unutilised land under its jurisdiction on the outcome of the analysis with the other sectors of the development, such as the UDA, BOI, and Tourist Board.

Sri Lanka may be a small island but it has a unique, rich and authentic culture that is warm, inviting and engaging. Taking into consideration the ample number of success stories regarding the development of Nautical Tourism elsewhere in the world, if all interested parties involved work together harmoniously, there will be no reason why Sri Lanka cannot enjoy significant growth in tourism within the coastal and marine areas in the future.

Sri Lanka Port Authority