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Here’s why you should not give up on Sri Lanka

Here’s why you should not give up on Sri Lanka

It’s been almost a month since the Easter Sunday explosions. We lost 253 beautiful souls who didn’t deserve to die the way they did. A few days ago, we celebrated Vesak. It was a silent Vesak. There was hardly any dansel. Dansels are where people offer free food – from ice cream to noodles, biryani and steamed cassava with sambal – to worshipers and every soul who passes by. Dansels bring pure joy in Vesak. Most streets, however, still lightened up with lanterns.

A week ago, in the holy month of Ramadan, an extremist group of Sinhalese Buddhists demolished the houses and businesses of Muslims in some parts of the country. Those small vegetable shops by the road were their bread and butter.

Now, we are trying to heal as one nation. Children are, slowly, heading back to school. People are boarding the morning commuter to the capital. Our hearts, slowly but surely, are healing. Our tourism isn’t.

Sri Lanka was ranked as the top travel destination in 2019 and arrivals were expected to grow. The tourism industry received a major blow after the bombings on 21st April. Many hotels, hostels, homestays, and resorts are experiencing zero occupation. Some luxury resorts and hotels are giving mega discounts (75% off everyone!!!) to attract local crowds. Flights to Sri Lanka from a number of destinations have experienced a large number of no-shows.

So…is it safe to Sri Lanka? There’s one thing, I, a local can say.

 

Anything can happen anywhere.

Every time a bomb goes off in a third world country, we will repeat words, once cliched, ‘anything can happen anywhere‘. We are hoping against the hope that people would still visit our beautiful lands. Truly, anything can happen anywhere, anytime. I believe that our world is beautiful but ruled by people with less compassionate hearts. Maybe it’s what power does to one. Before it was marked ‘the end’ in 2009, a decade ago, Sri Lanka suffered a three-decade-long civil war. And our tourism was almost nonexistent. The situation today, is, different. We don’t have an ongoing war. What happened on Easter Sunday was a one-time incident. We will always remember it. It will always be imprinted in our hearts, but despite political instabilities, and fear for ethnic tensions, the majority of us want to live a peaceful life.

 

Laxapana Waterfalls Sri Lanka
Laxapana Falls

People are flooding social media with their best shots of Sri Lanka. Some of them are borrowing Google images. Once a week, a stunning drone shoot gets shared on Facebook. The locals want people from around the world to come visit Sri Lanka. They want travelers to board a train that passes through tea plantations and mist-clad central highlands. They want you to gorge on plates full of rice & curry and walk on sandy-shores lined with palm trees. They want you to visit the ruins of age-old civilizations and hike in the accessible wilderness.

But why do they? The answer to this question also answers why you shouldn’t give up on Sri Lanka now. So why exactly? Here’s why!

 

Small businesses suffer.

 

Community Based Travel Sri Lanka
Ibrahim was our cooking class instructor at EcoWave Travels Sri Lanka, a community-based non-profit travel organization.

When tourism started booming after 2009, it became people’s bread and butter. Houses were turned into cute little homestays where shelves of pink bougainvillea grew. Sure, there are many ways to experience Sri Lanka, but to know her real side – the warmth of strangers, the nose-tingling aroma of a seasoned chicken curry, and the mythical beauty of paddy-fields where fireflies dance in a moonless night – one has to dive deep into her community.

It’s in these small homestays where you will find the warmest smiles and kindest hearts. It’s in her community, Sri Lanka’s community where your hearts fill with happiness at the sight of a sambal made with freshly grated coconut. It’s in her community where you will make memories, so one day, thousands of miles away, you will cherish the time you had in beautiful Sri Lanka.

So when Sri Lanka’s tourism goes down, her community, too, goes down. Remember, it’s what keeps them fed. Imagine one situation. The homestay in Sigiriya is empty. They don’t earn money. The tuk tuk drivers don’t have guests to take to Pidurangala. They don’t earn money. The uncle who sells fresh lime juice near Pidurangala gets no customers. He doesn’t earn money. No one earns money. Everyone and everything, despite their religion, race, and faith, is intertwined. We are all in this mess. Together.

 

Responsible and Sustainable Travel Sri Lanka
We met this uncle in Sigiriya last year. He has three kids. He’s diagnosed with polio from a young age, but he drives his three-wheel to keep his family fed. His wife runs the homestay. If there’s no tourism, there is no way to keep them sustained. 

 

Big businesses suffer.

Yes, they do. When they do, our economy as a whole suffers. The cost of living soars up. So we all, directly and indirectly, suffer.

But when big businesses suffer, some of us are affected more than others.

When big businesses suffer, small people, suffer more. Some of the resorts I know aren’t multinational conglomerates. But they aren’t certainly small businesses either. These mid-range businesses or luxury boutiques employ 25-30 people. When bookings get canceled, they don’t have a huge backup fund to pay salaries of their employees. So they don’t have any other option but to reduce salaries. When guests don’t show up, employees don’t get their incentives or service charge, so they would earn way less than what they usually earn.

 

Eco Travel Sri Lanka
This eco resort in Sigiriya employs people from the local village, most of them are women.

In one serene morning by the beach, a 53-year-old aunt told me her whole life as a domestic worker in the middle east. She was being abused by wealthy homeowners in the Gulf, yet she still continued her job because she wanted to keep her children fed and build a roof for them. With a smile playing on her lips and tears in her eyes, she told me how happy she was to be the chef in the resort. She wished if tourism was alive and kicking back then so she would have never left her little girls. So when things go wrong again, will they have to go back to being a domestic worker?

 

Everyone suffers. Not only those who are directly involved in tourism.

It is a small-scale vegetable seller who brings vegetables daily to your favorite luxury resort. It is a local fishmonger who brings his daily catch so you feast on a seafood curry for dinner. It’s a guy in the village who sells thambili (king coconut). It’s him. It’s her. It’s us. It’s all of us.

A week ago, I went to Nuwara Eliya. The Kandy-Nuwara Eliya road is usually filled with vehicles heading to upcountry. Last week, however, it was the quietest I’ve seen Nuwara Eliya. “We don’t know how to sell these vegetables anymore,” a middle-aged lady told me. Her voice was shattered. She’s set up a small, makeshift stall to sell her fresh, farm vegetables and now there’s no one on the roads. In Lake Gregory, the boat drivers wonder how they are going to pay the rent for the boats because hardly anyone hops on a speed boat anymore.

 

Kalpitiya Sri Lanka
A local kitesurfing instructor in Kalpitiya

So we all suffer. When Sri Lanka’s tourism suffers, her children suffer. You may wonder why I wrote a long blog post when I could’ve told it in one sentence. But I wanted to show how much we Sri Lankans are dependent on tourism.

It’s your tourism dollar which keeps a child fed, and helps a grandma buy her weekly medicine. It’s your tourism dollar which helps a little girl go to school and keeps her mumma with her till she grows bigger. It’s your tourism dollar that opens up jobs and keeps lives sustained. People, in country’s like ours — beautiful lands ruled by failed politicians — depend on that tourism dollar.

It’s one reason why when the land was wounded in a way she never deserved, her people flocked on social media to post about the beautiful land she always is. The other reason, although I cannot personally relate to, is that my countrymen, Sri Lanka’s children, simply love to hear how much outsiders love their land. Sri Lanka is beautiful. It truly is, and her people want you to come and visit her.

Would you come to Sri Lanka?


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