23rd February 2011, www.lankabusinessonline.com
The resumption of ferry links between India and Sri Lanka after a war is not likely to affect air lines, especially budget carriers, at least initially, officials and analysts said.
The ferry services are likely to cater to a different market than airlines unless or until voyages quicker than the proposed 10-12 hours or fares much cheaper than air fares are available, they said.
Ferry operations between Colombo harbour and Tuticorin in India are set to start next week, said ports ministry additional secretary Anura Jayawickrema, who visited the south Indian port recently to check on arrangements there.
The first ferry, a vessel with a capacity of 500 passengers run by a private Indian operator, is scheduled to sail from India on February 28.
"The Indians are quite ready for the passenger service," Jayawickrema said. "They have converted a big warehouse into a passenger terminal and installed most of the equipment like passenger seating, baggage scanning and immigration counters."
The initial frequency will be two voyages a week which will later increase to three.
On the Sri Lankan side, Colombo port is refurbishing its passenger terminal building, Jayawickrema said.
The island's ferries will be operated by state-owned Ceylon Shipping Corporation which is in talks with several parties on chartering vessels, its executive director A T K Chandradasa said.
"We're looking to hire a ferry with a capacity of 5-600 passengers, including cabins."
Ferry fees have not yet been decided but will be lower than air fares, Chandradasa said.
The main attraction for the maritime link is seen as the 100 kilo baggage allowance for each ferry passenger which officials and analysts say might lure travellers away from airlines.
However, each item of luggage on the ferry will be restricted to a maximum of 25 kilos.
Many of the passengers on board the usually heavily booked flights between Colombo and Chennai are businessmen and traders who are frequent flyers to the south Indian city for shopping.
"Many airline passengers to Chennai from Colombo are small businessmen," an official said. "But you don't get the same type of big shopping complexes like in Chennai in Tuticorin.
"The 100-kilo baggage allowance was offered mainly to attract these types of travellers," he added. "But since Tuticorin does not cater to their needs, it remains to be seen whether they can be attracted."
H M C Nimalsiri, director general of civil aviation, said it was too early to assess how ferry services will impact on air travel but noted that ferries might attract budget travellers if fares were much cheaper than air fares
"The ferry services might impact the airlines to some extent although some people would still prefer aircraft as it's much faster," he said.
"Also, ferry services will cater to a different market. For instance, pilgrims and others who go on package tours are unlikely to switch unless the tours are changed to suit ferry services. So there's unlikely to be any immediate impact on airlines."
Nimalsiri noted that pricing might cause travellers to switch to ferry travel but that airlines could fight back by dropping their own fares.
"Any market is sensitive to price - people may prefer cheaper ferries," Nimalsiri said. "But with more budget carriers coming up ferry services will also find it a challenge."
Faster ferries as available in other countries where maritime transport is common might pose a challenge to airlines if shorter transit times are possible, analysts said.
Although the flight time between Sri Lanka and south India is less than an hour, security concerns that require passengers to arrive three hours ahead of their flights and the time taken to travel between airports and city centres also need to be considered, they said.
The new maritime links come after months of talks between the two countries following the end of the island's 30-year ethnic war in 2009.
The war disrupted an existing ferry linking Talaimannar, in north-western Sri Lanka, and Rameshwaram, on the southern tip of India, which is also to revived.
Ferries linking Colombo and Kochi, another south Indian port, have also been mooted.
The option for travellers to take their vehicles across the water on ferries so they can drive around in the other country is expected to be offered later on, officials said.
Related Info :
• Colombo-Tutticorin Ferry from February. Seven Hour Daily Run at a Fare 30pct Less than Air Ticket
• Bridge link with India a visionary approach – Sri Lankan Transport Minister