By Shabiya Ali Ahlam
Giving a major boost to the post-war rebounding tourism sector, Sri Lanka will soon have its first-ever luxury cruise line with Colombo as its home port via an investment of over $ 200 million.
Spearheading this pioneering initiative is Royal Asian Cruises (RAC), which yesterday signed the agreement for the initial investment of $ 33 million with the Board of Investment (BOI).
The company said of the envisaged $ 200 million investment over the medium term, $ 33 million will come in as Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). It will start off with two luxury cruise liners and long term plan is to upsize the investment to $ 720 million to have a fleet of five liners.
With marketing offices in US and India, RAC will make Colombo as the home port for the cruises with weekly calls.
“We hope to cater to the global leisure travel markets with special emphasis on the Indian and Sri Lankan Diaspora. We will also focus on European and Southeast Asian markets such as Toronto, Staten Island, the UK, Russian, China, Japan, the Philippines, Australia and Singapore,” Royal Asian Cruises Chairman and Managing Director Mano Sinnarajah said after signing the agreement with BOI Chairman and Director General Dr. Lakshman Jayaweera in the presence of Investment Promotion Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena.
Sri Lankan-born RAC Chairman Sinnarajah was also enthusiastic on returning to his homeland to invest in a large-scale project.
“It gives me pleasure in knowing that Sri Lanka is now a safe country, conducive for investment and business opportunities. This venture will have many direct and indirect benefits on the economy. Starting from the provisioning services from local businesses the cruise vessel will require in operating from Sri Lanka to the natural shopping and spending capability of the passengers and crew that will arrive on a weekly basis,” he said.
RAC’s first ship, ‘Asian Pride,’ will have a passenger capacity of 800 and will launch its first cruise in late 2015. The second ship to be deployed in 2016 will accommodate 1,500-2,000 people.
The interior of the ships will be crafted by Tillberg Design, an internationally renowned marine architecture and interior design company. The cruise line will have year round cruises and will call on ports such as Maldives and Cochin on seven-night cruises. RAC also plan to offer shorter cruises, of three to four nights, around Sri Lanka and longer cruises, 10 to 11 nights) to Singapore and back.
BOI Chairman Jayaweera noted that by catering to a sector in the leisure travel industry that has not been previously addressed, Royal Asian Cruises will help Sri Lanka meet the targets in tourism set by the Government and will contribute towards making Sri Lanka a major maritime hub, which is a strategic objective of the Government.”