With over six decades of specialised experience in the transportation and logistics industry in Sri Lanka, and an expanding regional presence, Hayleys Advantis, together with other industry players, has a special role to play in accelerating Sri Lanka’s economic revival, according to respected industry veteran and Managing Director of Hayleys Advantis, Ruwan Waidyaratne.
In the backdrop of a complex and volatile economic and geopolitical landscape, Ruwan Waidyaratne shares his views on the performance of the industry, and its growth potential. Following are excerpts:
Q: How has the logistics industry changed post-COVID?
A: While our industry has always been essential, the global nature of the COVID-19 crisis helped raise awareness of our ability to keep exports and essential imports moving. This took on new significance in our daily lives.
We are proud to say that the entire sector has demonstrated immense resilience and adaptability. Despite severe backlogs in local and global ports, we have seen port throughput increase by 5.8% for the year ending 2021. Due to the strategic location of Sri Lanka, our industry has continued to deliver competitive, high-quality services, as evidenced by the 4.2% year-on-year (YoY) increase in transshipment volumes. However, an exponential uptake in e-commerce was noted as brands, retailers, and consumers shifted away from the brick-and-mortar model, creating fresh opportunities in 3PL and last-mile fulfilment.
Parallel to historic disruptions in maritime trade, global travel plunged, but airlines were able to bounce back by operating repatriation flights and converting passenger planes to deliver cargo. This helped sustain export earnings and secure delivery of time-sensitive cargo, including essential commodities and medical supplies.
Q: What role does the logistics sector have to play in accelerating Sri Lanka’s economic recovery?
A: Our most essential role is in ensuring that products, commodities and exports continue to flow efficiently to their final destinations – a foundation on which all other economic activity is based. By, leveraging lean management and digitalisation, we enhanced business and operational excellence and passed the resulting cost optimisations on to our customers as much as possible. Every optimisation we drive in reducing cost, or time to market, helps our customers contribute to this revival. The current fuel shortage that affected local businesses and export-oriented companies were mitigated to a certain degree as Advantis was one of the suppliers of Marine Gas Oil (MGO) to permitted third parties to continue their operations uninterrupted. Furthermore, we ensured that our bunkering operations continued to fuel the vessels coming into our territorial waters with Very Low Sulphur Fuel Oil (VLSFO), which was a requirement introduced in 2020, by the International Maritime Organisation to limit the sulphur content in the fuel oil used on board ships, marking a significant milestone to improve air quality, preserve the environment and protect human health. Advantis also assisted in the operation of the transportation of medical supplies to hospitals, including oxygen. All of these services help the sustenance of critical social infrastructure.
Hayleys Advantis is also pioneering a new role for Sri Lankan logistics, by directly generating foreign exchange revenue through high-value logistics and transportation projects across SAARC and APAC, most recently including a major infrastructure project in the Maldives. By linking our highly specialised capabilities to emerging markets, we see immense potential to actively enhance Sri Lanka’s foreign exchange earnings.
Q: What steps are you taking at Hayleys Advantis to prepare for this shift?
A: Our main focus is in upgrading our technological capabilities and enhancing the technical expertise of our people. New technology is definitely enabling greater agility and transparency across supply chains. Automation, AI and predictive analytics help our industry to cut costs while proactively responding to shifts in consumer demand.
Ultimately, it is people who drive systems and culture. Hayleys Advantis is no exception. We are a group of ordinary people with extraordinary expertise who come together to do incredible things. Developing and nurturing in-house talent is absolutely essential.
Over the past year, this has taken many forms, from Advantis Ideastorm – which encourages collaborative problem solving and innovation, to Advantis Campus, a powerful knowledge sharing programme across the entire Hayleys Advantis Group. This provides the team with opportunities to learn from some of the region’s most respected and innovative minds in the transportation and logistics sector.
Q: What are some of the key policy reforms required to unleash the true potential of the Sri Lankan transportation and logistics sector?
A: As one of the largest drivers of Sri Lanka’s logistics sector, and an emerging regional player, Hayleys Advantis has been actively engaging policymakers on key reforms. A top priority is implementing a single window for customers, which would drastically improve the ease of doing business.
This will require amendments to the Customs Ordinance, and we believe that it can be accomplished quickly by following the lead of established hubs such as Singapore and Dubai. We also need to establish a Port Community System that can bring all port-related public and private stakeholders onto a single platform. This can lead to further advancements in system-wide digitalisation.
If Sri Lanka is to capitalise on increasing transshipment volumes, infrastructure development is also essential, including the operationalisation of the East Container Terminal. Work on the West Container Terminal must also start as soon as possible. The industry is also in discussions with the Government on a unified national policy for shipping and logistics, and maritime policy.
In line with the Hayleys Lifecode, we are driving a more concerted focus on sustainability, and a unified push on assessing and developing ESG standards. We aim to lead by example and help drive meaningful progress across the industry.
The collective impact of such reforms have the potential to create a powerful and unique value proposition for Sri Lanka as an emerging global hub for logistics.
Q: What is your medium-long term outlook for Advantis?
A: Despite significant short-term challenges, we remain positive in our outlook. There are a lot of reasons for this optimism, including the rising regional growth in transshipment volumes, and continuing export growth. If these two trends continue, they can help us to finally take our position as South Asia’s premier logistics hub.
To capture opportunities beyond Sri Lanka’s borders, we are in the process of strengthening our regional presence, particularly in Singapore, Indonesia, Bangladesh, India, Maldives and Myanmar. There is tremendous potential in these regions, and we are making strong progress to position ourselves in these emerging markets and create synergies for Sri Lanka as well.