So Sri Lanka

So Sri Lanka takes global media by storm. That was the running title on a DailyFT article. Now the article itself does nothing to justify how exactly So Sri Lanka has taken the global media by storm. In fact, it’s merely a puff piece on Sri Lanka’s participation at the recently held
Internationale Tourismus-Börse, or ITB press conference in Berlin.

To me, all this looks like a poor attempt at convincing the general public on the success and grandeur of the So Sri Lanka campaign. Don’t get me wrong. I think its a great idea that someone actually thought about promoting Sri Lankan tourism through a branded approach. The issue however, is the actual execution of the idea.

Sure, we can create amazing content about Sri Lanka that can captivate any audience. But all those beautiful videos and promotions will only take things so far. There’s still a lot more that we, as a country need to fix. If not, So Sri Lanka will only be as significant as a facepalm emoji.

1. Harassment is still a major problem

Technically, this isn’t something specific to Sri Lanka. Harassment is a global problem that governments from around the globe are trying to tackle. Sri Lanka, sadly has to deal with all sorts of harassment.

It’s unfortunate that a foreigner can’t even walk in public without being groped by some pervert. Take Karen Hsin’s incident in Mirissa. All it took was for her to go look for coffee with a friend and she gets harassed in broad daylight. It’s disturbing to even think Karen’s story is just one among quite a few.

battling harassment in sri lanka
What commuting daily on a train looks like

It’s not just the tourists. Even Sri Lankans go through this trauma on a daily basis, particularly in public transport. So are the local authorities doing anything about this? Well, for one thing, the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority and the Tourist Police Division has reportedly launched a new project to introduce 22 new Tourist Police Units across popular destinations in the island. The 1st of these is to be opened in the centre of Mirissa Tourism Area on the 22nd of March. Of course this doesn’t guarantee things would get better. If Karen’s incident any indication even the local police can be unreliable at times, particularly for foreigners. but at least its a step in the right direction.

Then there’s the matter of public transportation. One of the ways the authorities believe that will solve the problem, is segregating the men from the women. This is already underway in the trains, and it looks like the same will be followed for the public buses as well. At first glance, this looks like a good first step. But I would argue quite the opposite. This may actually cause more problems than actually solve any of them. I’ve already argued on this point.

2. Deforestation

This might not be a popular topic as much as it should be. But its a prevalent issue nonetheless. The best example here is the case of Wilpattu. We all know what’s happening there.

The clearing of the Wilpattu National Park to pave way for a housing project has come under the spotlight in the recent past. To this day authorities seem to do nothing about it. Meanwhile the Centre for Environmental Justice has filed a petition against the issue. The Court of Appeal is to deliver judgement on the matter on the 6th of August, 2019.

The Wilpattu destruction

But this only goes to highlight the bigger issue, deforestation. Illegal felling of trees is yet to be regulated properly. As a result, the environment is paying the price. This will only come back to haunt us. After all, Sri Lanka is a beautiful island with such an amazing and diverse natural habitat. Our naturally rich biodiversity is one of our key selling points for promoting tourism.

Now, the government has made it compulsory for all chainsaws in Sri Lanka to be registered. Whether this will put a stop to deforestation, only time will tell. So Sri Lanka.

3. Pollution

If you’re a regular hiker then you already know the severity of this one. Seeing all the trash in so many travel destinations, it’s like we just don’t seem to care about the environment enough.

Adam’s Peak. It’s a sacred location, blessed with beautiful views and a journey that any hiker would find enjoyable. But even so, Adam’s Peak is constantly being polluted by its visitors. Although the forces and activist groups often attempt to clean up the route, the trash keeps piling up.

Back when I did the hike to Alagalla there was so much trash in the forest that I actually managed to find my way back because of it.

Funnily enough, I’ve never seen a tourist ever trash or even much as throw a toffee wrapper on the streets. Maybe it’s our upbringing or the lack of strict policies around trash management. Either way, we Sri Lankans can learn a thing or two from the tourists. So Sri Lanka.

4. Can we stop with the discrimination?

This is just plain wrong. There is no justification as to why someone should pay ridiculously high fares compared to local tickets, just because you’re from a different country. That logic doesn’t make sense to me at all. During one of my visits to Sigiriya I remember my colleague having to pay LKR 5000 because he was Maldivian. How much did I pay? Less than 10% of that.

The story is pretty much the same when it comes to a lot of government maintained places like these. This is daylight robbery in my books.

5. Transportation services need a serious upgrade

This is an annoying one. Our public transportation system is just appalling. Take our trains for instance. Some of them are so old that commuters can see through the floorboard, literally. The buses are no better either. Anybody taking the bus on a daily basis would know how uncomfortable the ride usually is. I can only imagine a foreigner’s experience taking a far more unpleasant perspective.

Now we do have some luxuries like the Podi Menike and the likes. But for the most part, our transportation still lives in the 80’s. To be fair though, the recent budget proposal did highlight the need for a better transportation system. But these are only mere words until action is taken.

No, this isn’t an abandoned old train

Then comes regulation. The lack of proper regulation when it comes to transport services has resulted in the tourists getting exploited left, right and center. The main culprits here are tuk tuks. It’s all got to do with this ridiculous notion that having white skin means you’re loaded with cash. As primitive as that sounds, it’s an actual opinion certain people have about foreigners, even today.

Of course, with the advent of taxi hailing services like PickMe and Uber, this issue is seeing a gradual decline to some extent. To their credit, the government has also tried to take certain steps towards resolving this matter. One, is making it compulsory by law to have a taxi meter. Second, is the introduction of a tourist friendly tuk service. What lacks is the proper execution. Tuks are hardly ever checked for taxi meters and the tourist-friendly tuk tuks don’t really seem to be that popular with tourists either. So Sri Lanka.

We need to do more

It’s amazing that the world views our little island as the best country in the world to visit in 2019. They are absolutely right. Sri Lanka is an experience like no other. As I’ve said in the beginning, it’s also great that the SLTDA is looking to brand this appeal for Sri Lanka.

But perhaps let’s fix our problems at least while we’re trying to convince everyone what So Sri Lanka is all about. The larger responsibility obviously falls on the government and the relevant authorities. But we as Sri Lankans, are also partly responsible here. After all, if Sri Lanka is to keep the top spot as the tourist destination, it should all be a joint effort.

Just look at what organizations like Thuru are trying to do. These guys are trying to plant 2 million trees with their current count nearing 7,000. Maybe you and I can’t afford to be that ambitious. But surely taking an active approach to conserving our island’s beauty can’t be that difficult?


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