Monday, September 22, 2008

a short journey to Cochin

I had to rush to India for three days recently as my sister fell ill while on a retreat and had to be hospitalized and I stayed with her till she got better to travel and accompanied her back. The normal 5day wait for an Indian visa was short circuited to the same day through connections and the urgent nature of the visit.

I was extremely pleased with the level of care she received at a private hospital and value for money of the institution as well as the approachability of the doctors at the hospital. The total cost of 3days care in a private air-conditioned room without food but with all medicines, doctors fees as well as drugs for a further two weeks upon discharge was Rs5000/- Indian or about US$100. I was so taken aback with how little was charged I gave the doctor US$40 to help with indigent patients, while thanking him for his dedication seeing the patients coming to his clinic every day.

I had not been to India for a long while, and I had planned a trip in the future to Kerala as a state most like Sri Lanka. It had been marketed well internationally as I had been aware of their promotions in the various World Travel Marts I had attended in London in Novembers of the past years prior to my return to Sri Lanka.

My first impressions were extremely poor, with the wait at the airport at immigration being almost twice as long as the flight to get to Cochin, which was 50 minutes. The arrivals area was so crowded with people teeming to greet relatives the whole experience was uncomfortable. More people and more tourists arrive into Cochin alone than to Sri Lanka in a year so one can appreciate the needs of a small provincial airport in a state with three other international airports!

My visit confirmed a few ideas I already had about Sri Lanka. We are a far superior tourist destination, with a greater potential of tourist satisfaction if only we know how to market the country despite the war. We need to offer a few conveniences like a tourist bus service into town, that costs less than the exorbitant Rs2400/- oneway trip into Colombo in an air-conditioned taxi. We also should reduce the cost of the cultural triangle pass, which only a tourist can tell you how unreasonable it is. Our tourism officials act like they have never been tourists in a foreign land. Hence they just don’t know what a tourist really wants, and how to satisfy one.

The country is about to spend US$4billion on a up market destination in Kalpitiya, a total waste of money that any person with common sense will state in a moment. We can get a better bang for our buck with less than 10% of that spent but directed in a different route not to over exploit any part of the country but to have very small exclusive resorts that will require less infrastructure and bring better quality jobs that will not disappear overseas.

Trust me when I say that half the jobs in the Kalpitiya zone will result in the trainees going overseas for employment, and the standard of the former falling, by having to add trainees all the time for the export market. There are plenty of jobs available in a country that does not have unemployment, just one of aspirations not meeting availability.

Small exclusive resorts of not more than 5 rooms is the answer to Sri Lanka, and this can then be shared by many people in the land who will own them, rather than a few international hoteliers who will be the real beneficiaries of a Kalpitiya zone. Large exclusive resorts never benefit the host country only small resorts do. However kudos, commissions and corruption is less likely in the small resort and therefore less chance for the powers that make the decisions to benefit personally at the expense of the country. The tourist bureaucracy only appeals to those wanting to receive some international recognition. Actually profit is more important and the small hotelier who does not make it to the World Travel Mart as it is not cost effective is the person really benefiting Sri Lanka as he or she has a small place offering a unique experience that even a hotelier cannot even dream of inventing.

Coming back to the case of India, where everyone requires a visa which is certainly not cheap if you are a European or American, I cannot find one reason for them to choose India over Sri Lanka, It is a country with 60 times our population and about 4 times to offer in tourist delights! Sri Lanka is a country one could never tire of as there is so much packed in such a small area. The idiocy of the industry not to recognize this and act accordingly baffles me.

I am not trying to denigrate India, but compared to Sri Lanka it is a non starter. The benefits there of lower costs of food and such like are not areas that reflect on tourism, so the many great things of the country have little relation to tourism which I am highlighting here. If India can attract people with all these drawbacks, I see no reason why Sri Lanka cannot be proactive.

1 comment:

George said...

I was thinking of buying beachfront property in Kalpitiya a few years ago but gave up the idea because most of the area is polluted by prawn farms. Land that has been used for prawn farming is usually polluted beyond repair. The heat and humidity in the area are also high and I can't think of all this could appeal to tourists.

Anyway, I am sure the local politicians are quickly buying up land in the area and will make a killing. Most of the US$4 billion will end up in their pockets.