Luxury yachts to attract tourists to Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka recently embarked on a novel project to manufacture and market luxury yachts as a new initiative under the country’s tourism drive.

The foundation stone for the yacht factory was laid at a ceremony presided over by the Minister of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Development Mahinda Amaraweera. Several guests including MP Chathura Senaratne were present on the occasion.

The proposed luxury yacht manufacturing facility located at the Beruwala Fisheries Harbour is a joint-venture between the Building a Future Foundation (BAFF) and Solar Impulse Ltd.

BAFF was founded by one of Colombo’s leading business families, the Jinasenas, and Pierre Pringiers, the Honorary Consul for Belgium in Sri Lanka, as a long-term extension of the Solideal Loadstar Rehabilitation Trust (SLRT) which was created in response to the 2004 tsunami to rebuild the southern coast. It built houses for 15,000 beneficiaries with a total budget of 5 million Euros. They are also co-founders of Loadstar) Ltd. (now Camso-Loadstar).

BAFF aims to improve the living conditions of a thousand underprivileged persons who depend on the resources of the ocean while respecting and preserving their environment. BAFF’s impact model is to provide vocational training to youth, to incubate businesses by bringing in professional expertise and support, to create sustainable employment and to generate stable incomes for the young generation and their families.

“We have decided to build boats for the tourism industry,” said Pringiers. “That is to build yachts and eventually own the yachts and charter them out to tour and hotel operators and make it a part of the attraction of Sri Lanka as a tourist destination.”

$ 26 m investment in next five years

“We have already invested four million dollars in the whole project including the boat building side, and we are planning to invest 26 million dollars in the next five years. We are looking for partners as I’m not doing this for myself,” the 71 year-old Pringiers explained.

“My purpose is not to make money on this but to put this on the rails and to try to convince I would say, fellow Sri Lankans – because I also feel like a Sri Lankan today – and fellow Sri Lankan companies to come and join us in this effort. If we don’t do it now, we will be taken over by others and people will complain about all the multinationals being here and little being left. My vision is therefore to have leisure and yachting and yacht building and yacht chartering developed in Sri Lanka with deep roots into the country.”

DFT-13-01Minister of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Development Mahinda Amaraweera lights the traditional oil lamp at the foundation stone laying ceremony for the new luxury yacht manufacturing facility at Beruwala

Largest sail-boat manufacturing facility in the country

Speaking on the occasion, Minister of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Development Amaraweera said that it was an occasion for joy not just for Beruwala, but for the whole country as the benefits of the project would accrue to the whole of Sri Lanka.

“On the one hand, not only would our youth be able to secure employment, but we will also be able to earn a large amount of foreign exchange. Similarly, it is very clear that these organisations will make a significant contribution to the tourism industry.”

The Minister also said that Sri Lanka had exceeded its annual tourist arrival target by about November last year. This year too he said the Government expected that the targets would be achieved by about October.

“Sri Lanka is now known the world over as a very ‘tourist friendly’ country. The factory that is being set up here will be the largest sail boat manufacturing facility in the country. It makes us very proud that foreigners as well as Sri Lankans today show a marked preference to go back to this ancient navigational method.

“We believe that this project will pave the way for us to begin a fishery-based tourism industry. “Tourists have shown a preference to visit places allied to the fisheries industry and even take part in some of the activities. On behalf of the Government and the Ministry, I assure you that we will give the maximum assistance to develop this industry with new technology in partnership with the private sector.”

Favourable investment climate even during turmoil

Pringiers, who was attracted by the country’s natural rubber, and arrived in Sri Lanka in 1980, also spoke of the successes since then, particularly during the conflict in the country.

“Thirty years ago I created a joint-venture with the Jinasenas which is called Camso-Loadstar for the manufacture of solid industrial tyres in Sri Lanka. This was my second project. The first was with Associated Motorways. Camso-Loadstar has now become the No. 1 in the world for the production and sale of industrial solid tyres. Sri Lanka has also become the No. 1 producer in the world with more than 50% of the world market. That’s quite an achievement for a small country like Sri Lanka and it’s also an example of what can be done here and how favourable the investment climate actually is, particularly because we did our success story in a period of turmoil when Sri Lanka was virtually at war.

“A lot of tourists spend two weeks in Sri Lanka; one week is cultural and the other week is on the beach. But generally on the beach they don’t know what to do the whole day; the days are long. Therefore, having this going to sea opportunity is a major plus for attracting tourists to Sri Lanka and maintaining them in a happy spirit while being here.

“Sri Lanka basically has 1,500 km of coast. When I look at Europe, which I know very well, one of the major places is the Mediterranean where the southern coast of France which is known as the French Riviera is only 500 km of coast. But there are around 10 to 20 thousand yachts there during one season from May to September. After that it’s dead.

“Now when you look at Sri Lanka, we have two Rivieras; we have one on the south and west coast and we have one on the east coast. Each of them also has the five months of ‘blue water’ time. Now that there is peace in Sri Lanka and the relationship with foreign countries is in a better shape, we felt that the opportunity would arise now for Sri Lanka to develop the charter business and the marina business. Marinas are where the yachts are moored in the evening.”

Tour and hotel companies invited to invest

He also said that the Export Development Board and the Government were all pushing them to export. However, their idea is to do import substitution ahead of time.

“We do not wish to wait until the market gets flooded by foreign built yachts but try to be the first and take advantage of the fact that we have plenty of boat building capacity in Sri Lanka with 40 boat builders. Let’s start to build yachts which are adapted to the climate and the local demand and create also charter companies where we involve tourist organisations and hotel operators from Sri Lanka to become partners. Basically we have defined a business vision from 2014 and today we have the Sail-Lanka Charter which is the No. 1 charter company in Sri Lanka.”

BAFF has a training centre in Ahangama (also on the south coast) which provides both theoretical and “on the job” training to underprivileged youth in areas which have the potential to contribute to the economic development of the country. The training includes boat building for both fishing and leisure; sail and mast making; mechanical and electrical engineering; polyurethane and moulded rubber products manufacturing and civil works including masonry, carpentry, air conditioning and refrigerator repairs.

Pringiers, who is a sailor himself, explained how he got ‘trapped’ into taking care of the marine part after the tsunami. “I took care of the fishermen, the boats. Because I am a seaman I know what the sea is and how terrible the sea can be and also what pleasures you can have on the sea.”

DFT-13-02Crew members of the Sail-Lanka Charter yacht draw down the sails after a mini cruise following the foundation stone laying ceremony for the new luxury yacht manufacturing factory at Beruwala

Pioneer of Mirissa whale watching

The seaman who pioneered whale watching in Mirissa continued explaining how the mindset of the community had now changed.

“The introduction of the leisure part of it was a new thing for Sri Lanka, and in the beginning even in Mirissa, the fishermen were not happy with it although some of their sons and daughters were the owners of the companies. Even the community was not happy to have tourists inside the harbour. But today, every fisherman who owns a boat wonders whether he should venture into the whale watching operation.

“If you go to Mirissa at 6 o’clock in the morning, you have the worst traffic jam; worse than in Colombo at peak hour. It’s crazy. Thousands of tourists are there to board the boats; you cannot believe your eyes. It’s such a sweet and satisfying thing to see, and the people now love the whale watching and this will become very, very, big.”

Indhra Kaushal Rajapaksa, a Director of BAFF, recalled how one of the fastest racing yachts in the world arrived at the Mirissa Mini Marina built by BAFF in November 2015. “The yacht – a trimaran – was participating in the ‘GuoChuan Racing’ to sail across the ‘21st Century Maritime Silk Road’. The vessel was on its way to Mumbai, Alexandria and Monaco. The Skipper of the yacht Guo Chang said that the potential of Sri Lanka as a yachting destination was huge.”

Yachting around the island is bigger than whale watching

“Yachting around the island, using the 1,500 km of coast, is 500 times bigger than whale watching,” said Pringiers. “We can go anywhere; we can visit Mannar or Talaimannar. We can go to remote places where nobody goes today. The 1,500 km of coast can be explored ecologically, because our core business is building boats with sails and we very much prefer the sail power.”

“You cannot do big boat building with charitable money anymore. We need investors. I’m looking for investors for the 26 million dollar project,” Pringiers continued. “This is now a big thing. If I don’t make this big, we will be overtaken by the foreign competition. We have to be faster, better and more efficient, and we trust that the Government will understand that our initiative has to be given the most favourable environment and conditions to succeed and to compete with yachts built overseas.”

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