However, as much as everyone brags about the increase in tourism, the fact remains that the hotel staff is disgracefully still living in the colonial era. The Tourist Board had approached the Immigration and Emigration Department to extend tourist visas for six months and beyond. If Sri Lanka wants to make the island a paradise for tourists, then the following needs to be done for tourist attractions rather than talking about tourist increases constantly. Surely, Sri Lanka needs tourists to boost its collapsed economy.
The Immigration & Emigration Department needs to be set up to establish any queries on entry visas and passports, thereby reducing tourists’ time and saving their valuable time and money rather than wasting time in such offices.
Embarkation tax on tourists and those living abroad should be abolished.
Duty-Free outlets should have a good selection of wine and foreign liquor, and all brands of cigarettes should be available for tourists.
Local liquor in terms of Gin, Cyder and all brands of arrack should be available in ‘duty-free wine shops and supermarkets for passengers coming into the country and leaving. Shop owners and Management staff should ensure that whether they are Lankans or Asians living abroad.
Most ‘tuk-tuk’ drivers are a menace on the road. They not only transport passengers but do not have insurance coverage for passengers in case of a severe accident. Since most tourists use ‘tuk-tuks’ these days, having insurance coverage for passengers is essential.
All levels of services in all the airports need to improve.
Airports should have an Ambulance and a Para Medics Service.
Most ‘tuk-tuk’ drivers pose a danger in the first-degree carrying tourists without insurance packages to cover their passengers. It should be made Law to have passenger coverage. All other countries benefit from this.
Bus drivers think roads are their domain and overtake other buses that come in the opposite direction. The wind of the overtaking buses is sufficient to knock someone down as there are no pavements, especially in tourist areas such as Hikkaduwa and Unawatuna.
Scammers are a bigger threat to tourists. Usually, locals pretend to be tour guides directing to local markets and seabeaches where fishermen sit on silts. Naturally, it would be a strange experience for foreign tourists who would be tempted to photograph the anglers sitting on a pole with only loin cloth. But what would happen after photographing the act? Do many locals argue about paying money for photographing the anglers?
Recently two tourists arrived in Sri Lanka from Switzerland on the 1st of February 2023, to be known personally to the writer, and spent their holiday till the 22nd of February 2023. They had booked a full itinerary and paid in January 2023 $900 to a reputed travel company with over forty years of experience in the tourist industry, recommended by The Sri Lankan Tourist Board. Ultimately, they were disappointed with the travel company that arranged everything for them because the tourists needed to be consulted on what they wanted to do in Sri Lanka. Locals were trying to rip them off wherever they went.
Their first stop was Kalpitiya, and they were booked for two days. The ‘professional travel company’ did not communicate with the tourists to understand their needs. In Kalpitiya, you can either watch Blue Whales or Kitesurfing! Both of which were different from what the tourists wanted to do. There was also little else tourists could do in the surrounding area. It was a waste of two precious days! It boils down to the Tourist Agency needing more knowledge of the travel industry and a better understanding of their clients’ needs. The Tourist Board should take this example and advise relevant companies in advance.
The second strange occurrence -The time needed to get from one location to the next – from Kalpitiya to Sigiriya, The driver it was very far. The driver asked the tourists to be ready by 6 a.m. However, they discovered it was ridiculous; when they were in the car, looking at Google Maps, they found that it was only about 2.5 hrs! The driver would be staying at a relative’s place close to the tourist’s hotel, so it appeared that the driver wanted to maximise the day for his free time. Surely tourists need to pay their hard-earned money for drivers to have a full day’s rest when hired! The tour company pays drivers lunch money and arranges accommodation when payment is charged at the booking. Not a single driver uttered a word about it and quite happily took the offer of lunch money each day. The tourists were unaware of this as the agency did not issue such instructions. The tourists were indeed taken for a ride of the wrong sort!
Generally, every tourist explains that when they visit places of attraction such as the Lotus Tower in Colombo, the Gampola Tower or Sigiriya Lion Rock, tourists are charged much more than the locals at Sigiriya. It is a 19,079% markup! It costs locals 50 LKR and tourists 30 USD (nearly 10,000 LKR). It is an unbelievably high markup for tourists who say: “We have no issue paying more than the locals, but it should be at a reasonable limit. And when the payment was made by credit card, the receipt states ‘Central government fund’, making the tourists wonder where the money was going! Among many other tour groups, the duo say: “We have found that this sort of charging is prevalent in Sri Lanka and creates a very unpleasant experience. If this trend continues repeatedly, surely tourists will look for other destinations.”
At Yala, the travel agency had organised a driver in advance. Tourists ‘experienced Yala driver’ turned up with a red mouth from chewing beetle leaves, looked as high as a kite, and then offered to sell the drugs to tourists. Later he complained that he does not get paid by his boss and solely relies on tips. He also stated that he had been made an orphan by the Tsunami and had nothing left. He later told the Swiss tourists about his young daughter’s illness- a Hole in the Heart. Out of sympathy, one of the tourists gave him a substantial tip.
The Yala driver also promised to send some photos of leopards he had seen before and photographed. When he didn’t respond for several days and eventually responded with an emoji, the tourists realised they had been retaken for a ride! Swiss tourists were shocked that someone could say such lies, and even if they were to be confirmed true, how ridiculous it was to treat visitors to Sri Lanka this way. Unfortunately, the short-sightedness of only looking out for immediate gain and not thinking about the country’s longer-term benefits, which has been so prevalent in Sri Lankan politics over the decades, has filtered down through society. The authorities should stop this sort of abuse. It is only one example of ripping off tourists. However, this happens everywhere, from tuk-tuks to bars etc. The writer strongly suggests that the Tourist Board or the Tour Company should advise tourist companies to refrain from associating with handlers and stop this kind of activity. The tourists want to help tourism in Sri Lanka because it is a ‘marvellous’ country, but this kind of behaviour puts Sri Lanka in the dark and will hinder the tourist industry massively.
They were booked into empty hotels.
The two tourists complained that the tour Agency had booked them into empty hotels in remote locations with nothing else to do. Why should the tour company help the hotels at tourists’ expense? The company with forty years of experience in the tourist industry must ask about the type of hotels tourists require. After all, they had thought that by using them, they would know where to put them to give them a great experience of Sri Lanka; once they could take home, tell their friends about it, and encourage them to visit this paradise island. Unfortunately, they left with quite the opposite view.
Finally, they were booked into Araliya for two nights at Unawatuna. After experiencing frustration throughout, the duo only thought the hotel was up to any international standard. Again, it was evident that the standards and service differed from what you can expect from an international chain like the Marriott compared to the locally run Araliya. The Swiss tourists concluded that however the Sri Lankan tourist board rates a hotel, you can deduct one star, and you will better understand what to expect.
It was such an unpleasant experience for the tourists, and no wonder there is “corruption from top to bottom in Sri Lanka, including coercion in different types of scams.” The writer strongly advises the Tourist Board to avoid repeating the same mistake when recommending a tourist company of their choice.
The final words of the two tourists were that they would have saved many dollars if they were to travel by ‘Uber’ and organised their trip by themselves. In such a case, $900 each would have gone much further than what they ended up with.