MMBL-Pathfinder sets up dedicated niche tourism investment vehicle

Sri Lanka Tourism is quite bullish about the future prospects of tourism and confident that the island would see in excess of 2.3 million tourists this year, which number is expected to exceed 4.5 million by 2020.

The MMBL-Pathfinder Group has a diversified portfolio of investments spanning many sectors of the economy. It also has strategic alliances with several international Fortune 500 companied and Sri Lankan blue-chip companies.

With a view to plugging on to the fast developing tourism sector, MMBL-Pathfinder has set up an investment arm, MMBL Leisure Holdings Ltd., to make strategic investments in niche leisure sector projects aimed at meeting expectations of tourists with diverse interests. It is the vision of the newly-established company to come up with new ideas and fill the missing gaps in the industry, so as to better serve the increasing number of tourists.


Among the several steps taken by the company to make its vision a reality is to team up with Lebara investment BV, a European-based company, with significant investment in Europe and India in the leisure sector, as well as telecommunication and electronic media, by offering a minority stake.

Being a company that focuses on niche investment segments, MMBL Leisure Holdings believes that this relationship would facilitate in identifying and undertaking projects that would serve the leisure sector, which has a promising future.

MMBL Leisure Holdings was at the forefront from the inception of the Jetwing Jaffna hotel project, a joint venture involving MMBL Leisure Holdings, Jetwing Hotels, Regency Teas and several other investors, which was declared open on 3 April.

Speaking on future plans, MMBL-Pathfinder Group CEO K. Balasundaram disclosed that his company was currently making preliminary plans to come up with a mixed development project in Jaffna town, which would provide space for a shopping mall, an entertainment complex and apartments targeting visitors, including Sri Lankan expatriates, who now visit the peninsula in large numbers.

While tourism growth is expected to be on the fast track in the coming years, a major shortcoming experienced by the sector is poor road infrastructure requiring tourists to trudge seven to eight hours from the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) to popular tourist destinations such as Arugam Bay, Jaffna, Passikudah, and Trincomalee, etc.

Recognising this deficiency, MMBL Leisure Holdings teamed up with John Keells Group and apparel multinational Brandix Group and drew up a blueprint to establish a domestic airline that would provide rapid air transportation to far flung tourist destinations in the island, cutting down the travel time to approximately minutes.

Cinnamon Air, the joint venture domestic airline, is the only carrier providing scheduled flights to a number of sought after destinations in the island and a versatile service employing two amphibians and one wheeled aircraft, using BIA as its base. Currently, Cinnamon Air conducts scheduled flights to several popular destinations such as Kandy, Castlereagh Sigiriya, Batticaloa, Trincomalee, Bentota, Koggala, Dikwella, and effective mid-year Mattala, as well as charter flights to several other exotic destinations such as Nuwara Eliya.

For many decades, visitors to Sri Lanka have been provided with identical packages, which included beaches, round trips covering the cultural triangle and the hill country and to lesser extent wildlife parks. The only noteworthy new addition to the old repertoire is whale and dolphin watching off Mirissa, Kalpitiya and Trincomalee.

Recognising the need to provide new experiences to tourists, MMBL Leisure Holdings has teamed up with the Jetwing Group to provide a totally new experience to tourists as well as locals by adding houseboats to Sri Lanka’s list of tourist attractions. The first-ever houseboat providing luxury air-conditioned accommodation facilities and constructed under the project currently operates from Dedduwa, using Bentara River to travel 20 k.m. upstream from Bentota, a popular tourist resort in Sri Lanka.

Despite being an island, Sri Lanka has an inexplicable deficit of facilities for use of the ocean that surrounds the country. MMBL Leisure Holdings firmly believes that there is considerable scope for development of water-based tourism and the company proposes to fill the current lacuna by introducing boating facilities in rivers and reservoirs.

The Victoria reservoir located in the Central Province will be the launching pad for such services. The company is currently in discussion with relevant authorities with a view to expanding the houseboat concept to several other reservoirs in the Central Province as well as the dry zone, where wildlife is abundant.

Likewise, the company is currently in negotiation with a Scandinavian firm with a view to introducing a ferry cum passenger service between Colombo and Kochi, located in the west coast of India and Colombo and Tuticorin. Another interest of the company is to introduce a coastal service to attract tourists to hop from one port to another, such as Colombo, Galle, Hambantota, Trincomalee and Kankasanthurai, providing them with an unforgettable nautical experience.

The company is aware that the east coast of Sri Lanka is replete with unexploited potential for tourism and believes that it is a matter of time before the east becomes the Gold Cost of Sri Lanka.

Based on that conviction, the company has launched a joint venture with John Keells Group, a blue-chip company and market leader in tourism, and has established Sentinel Realty Ltd., a real estate company. That company has acquired a 23-acre property near Yan Oya, 50 km north of Trincomalee with the intention of developing a tourist resort. The unique feature of the property is that it has both ocean and riverfronts and boasts of over 1.5 km stretch of continuous beachfront with no other property in between! The second property acquired by Sentinel Realty is located in Vakarai, midway between Batticaloa and Trincomalee, which has beach as well as lagoon frontage.

MMBL Leisure Holdings has several other properties awaiting development. One such property is located in Trincomalee facing the waterfront. The company is currently in negotiation to establish an apartment complex, which will be a boon for holidaymakers, short-term visitors as well as foreign companies that would be involved in development of Trincomalee and its suburbs.

Another unique property awaiting development is located in Rangala in the Central Province, bordering the Knuckles mountain range and overlooking the Dumbara valley. Since being declared a Heritage of Mankind by UNESCO several years ago, increasing number of tourists flock to the Knuckles mountain range.  Consequently, establishment of a tourist facility there would help increase the ‘outstanding universal value’ of one of Sri Lanka’s national heritage and create greater awareness of the unique heritage in the minds of Sri Lankans.

MMBL Leisure Holdings Chairman Bernard Goonetilleke, who earlier functioned as Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority and Tourism Promotion Bureau Chairman, was quite upbeat about future prospects of tourism.

“Where tourism is concerned, Sri Lanka’s potential is much greater than what we are currently experiencing today,” said Goonetilleke, with conviction. “MMBL Leisure Holdings is doing what it could to concentrate on niche tourism sectors that would help taking Sri Lanka tourism to the next level”.

See more at: FT


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