Travails of local tourists

As peace returns and Sri Lanka becomes a favoured holiday destination, a recent incident at a guest house in Hikkaduwa highlights discrimination against Lankans. Dhananjani Silva reports on this incident and other issues concerning the industry

With the end of a three decade-long separatist war, Sri Lanka’s tourist industry is booming with not just foreigners but also Sri Lankans enthusiastically exploring travel spots around the country.

But all is not what it seems. The experience of a group of Sri Lankans in a guest house down south turned out to be a bitter one for the travellers who received poor treatment from the owners simply because they were “locals”.

Narrating their experience a Sri Lankan among the group (four locals and two Germans) said the problem occurred at a guest house in Hikkaduwa run by an Austrian lady married to a Sri Lankan.
“It was our German friends who went in first to book three rooms. We had lunch at the restaurant and proceeded to the beach. Soon a Sri Lankan working at the guest house came up to us and told us that on principle they did not entertain locals and that if we wanted to stay, we would have to pay extra (Rs. 3000- double the charge of the room booked). When we asked why, he said since locals steal and create problems they are not entertained at the guest house.

“We decided to leave. The Austrian lady meanwhile tried to convince my German friends to stay saying they were not against them staying. But all of us decided to go,” she said. The guest house was very nice and comfortable place, but the way they were treated and discriminated was a matter of concern, she said.

When contacted by the Sunday Times the owner’s wife said that it was a tourist guest house and that they didn’t have to take locals. In addition she said the locals caused problems. “Sometimes four or five people try to occupy a double room or they would bring alcohol, have food in the rooms room and sometimes damage the premises. We have not had this kind of problems with foreigners. We take in local guests only known to us,” she said.

Should Sri Lankans face this kind of discrimination in our own country?

If the hotel or the guest house is registered with the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) it becomes accessible to public whether you are a foreign tourist or a local, said the Director General SLTDA. S.. Kalaiselvam. If it not, then the owner has the right to decide whom he/she wants to entertain, he said.

However, there are exceptions where certain guests can be refused by a hotel/guest house owner that is registered under SLTDA too. "They can refuse a particular guest for a valid reason, say for example if that person has created problems at the hotel before," the DG said. In the event that visitors are discriminated without a valid reason, they can report to the SLTDA, he added.

On a different note, tourists too complain of discrimination -being over charged or having to pay high prices when entering cultural sites and national parks, the Sunday Times understands.
The cost of tickets to the Cultural Triangle sites are revealing: Anuradhapura US$ 25 (Rs. 2775), Polonnaruwa US$ 25, Sigiriya US$ 30 (Rs.3330) , Kandy Museum US$ 12 ( Rs. 1332) , Kataragama Museum US$ 5 (Rs. 555), Galle Museum US$ 5 (Rs. 555) Sigiriya Museum US$5 (Rs. 555) and Dambulla Museum US$ 2 (Rs. 222). A round ticket covers the sites for US$ 50 (Rs. 5550) . For locals it would be Rs 40-60.

To visit the country’s national parks such as Yala, Uda Walawe, Wilpattu, Horton Plains and Minneriya, a foreigner is charged US$ 15 excluding vehicle charge + service charge and taxes while for a local it is Rs. 60 plus vehicle charge + service charge and taxes.

Asked about the price disparity between locals and foreigners, Central Cultural Fund Director General Nimal de Silva said no complaints have been made by foreigners so far about the rates. The money collected is channelled to the Central Cultural Fund (CCF) which utilises it for various conservation projects throughout the country, he said. The site ticket of US$ 25 for places like Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa for foreigners, he said started with US$ 15 and has increased over a 30 year period. “Therefore it cannot be considered a high price.”

“Money collected from Sigiriya is not just for the maintenance of that place but for the maintenance of other monuments in Sri Lanka too. These conservation projects include maintenance, research and publication etc,” he added.

Locals pay a low entrance rate as they are given a concession when entering the places of their cultural heritage, he said. As for the foreigners too, certain concessions are granted for certain groups, he added. Foreign students under 12 years and foreigners from SAARC countries are only charged half price while priests can visit these sites free of charge.

Plans are underway to scrap the round ticket system in November to prevent fraudulent acts taking place. “Sometimes, guides try to mislead foreigners who obtain a round ticket or discourage them from going to certain places like Sigiriya. They would say it is a difficult climb etc, just to save the entrance pass for that particular site and resell it to another later as it is valid for three months. To prevent such acts, we are going to have only site tickets,” the DG said.

Director General Wild Life Conservation Chandrawansa Pathiraja said he has received complaints only with regard to delays at the gates to popular parks like Yala where there is a high visitor turnout. Steps have been taken to rectify the problems he said. “As a temporary measure, we have increased the counters to issue the tickets. We are working on a system to introduce an e- ticket system too,” he said.

Chairman Jetwing Hotels and Chairman Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) Hiran Cooray said that money charged from these places is being utilised for the maintenance of the places. However, facilities at these places need improvement. “If there are more facilities in place with better interpretation etc, then there won’t be a problem in charging that extra bit,” he said adding that most tourists are used to paying high rates, but should not be over charged.


Complaints about your travel in the country? The Sri Lankan Tourism Board has established a 24-hour hotline and a separate police unit to assist tourists, both local and foreign. Hotline 1912 or Police Unit 2421451 can be contacted for complaints and other information related to tourist establishments.

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