Will cruise tourism open soon in Sri Lanka?

GALLE, Sri Lanka, 29 January 2021: Bringing back cruise tourism to Sri Lanka should be the next priority following Sri Lanka’s decision to partially open borders for airline travellers who book specified travel bubble hotels.

Asia Pacific Superyachts (APS) head in Sri Lanka, Priyantha Perera, is lobbying authorities to open borders for cruising while acknowledging the government is “monitoring air travel tourism to prevent any Covid-19 outbreaks,” following the opening of borders 23 January.

Perera, who heads a company specialising in serving Superyachts in the region, calls for a review of regulations impacting luxury yachts.

 “The many regulations concerning tender boat operations and lack of anchorages suitable for superyachts has held back significant superyacht cruising, which now actually adds to its attraction as a stunning adventure cruising destination, once the borders are open to arriving yachts”. 

Perera notes that yachts are currently only permitted to enter a port to take on essential supplies such as fuel and provisions. The crew cannot go ashore, and crew changes and commercial flight crew arrivals are not permitted.

“All crew arrivals and departures are on charter flights from the Maldives operated by a government-appointed service provider wherein the crew needs to book into the ‘Off Shore Crew Transit Hub’ (OCTH). The crew must stay for two days in isolation before being transferred to board a vessel”, he added.

Once borders are open to yachts, Galle at the southern tip of the island is the preferred port mainly  because “refuelling and provisioning at the old port of Galle are straightforward and this is where most yachts clear-in, and it is the port where conditions for visiting yachts have shown some improvement.”

Once formalities are completed, special permission must still be obtained before travelling to other northern states. An agent is required to clear into and out of Sri Lanka.

Perera notes there are specific procedures in place for ship captains that are not linked to Covid-19.

“For example, no boat can cruise around the country’s coast without obtaining Defense Ministry & Sri Lanka Customs approval.  Although the Defense Ministry has relaxed its stance with regard to coastal cruising, captains need to provide a cruise itinerary with full details of guests onboard to the Sri Lanka Navy and the Coast Guard.”

Sri Lanka remains a useful stop for yachts en route to the Red Sea and a good point of departure for cruising the Maldives, Chagos and Seychelles. A country of 1,300 kilometres of coastline, eight Unesco World Heritage Sites and 15 national parks are among the reasons Sri Lanka is known as ‘The Pearl of the Indian Ocean’.

The two monsoon winds provide seasonal rain to the two corners of the country ensuring Sri Lanka’s beach holiday a year-round prospect. The northeast winds ensure the southwestern coast is sunny and the sea calm from November to March. The southwest winds make the east coast waters calm with clear skies.

The government of Sri Lanka announced the opening of Katunayake and Mattala airports for a special tourism route starting 23 January 2021.

Currently, the tourism bubble route is not applicable to those travelling from the UK or South Africa due to the emergence of a more aggressive variant of Covid-19.

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