A few days back, two Sri Lankan students studying in China returned home for holidays. During their transit in Kuala Lumpur they bumped into an elderly Dutch lecturer, who taught at another Chinese university, and his wife. The Dutch couple were on their way to Sri Lanka for a holiday.
One of the boys was supposed to take a cab from the airport to home. However, he changed his mind and suggested to his friend that it would be nice if they could accompany the elderly Dutch couple to their hotel. The other student agreed. They decided to board the bus the couple was taking to Fort.
Having come out of the Katunayake airport, the two students and the Dutch couple boarded a semi-luxury bus that took the express way to Fort. All four passengers were issued Rs.100 tickets and the two boys had to pay an extra Rs.100 for their big luggage as they had to keep their big bags on another seat. The Dutch couple did not carry big luggage so they did not have to pay extra. Well and good.
More passengers boarded the bus later. An elderly European-like gentleman was among them. He had only his hand luggage. The conductor of the bus announced him the fee, “Rs. 200”. The elderly gent took his wallet out to pay the amount. One of the students interjected. “Why Rs. 200? He only has his hand luggage?” the boy asked the conductor. After all, the Dutch couple with hand luggage had to pay only Rs. 100 each. “It’s our business, you mind your own work” the conductor dismissed the boys argument. It was likely that the conductor would have charged extra from the Dutch couple too if they were not accompanied by the Sri Lankan boys.
The new passenger tried to pay the sum however the boy asked him to pay only Rs.100. He smiled and replied to the boy “I am used to these things here. This is my ninth visit to Sri Lanka” and offered the money. The boy told the conductor “It’s because of people like you that country is still lagging behind and countries like China are marching forward. These people come to our country for the love of it and just out of airport they are being robbed by people like you”. An enraged conductor challenged the boy “You meet us somewhere else, I will teach you a lesson”.
Once the dispute was over the gentleman introduced himself to the boy out of gratitude. He said he was from Germany and he loved Sri Lanka and that was why he came so often. The boy felt so sad about the treatment he got from the conductor. He said good bye to the German at Fort bus stop and accompanied the Dutch couple to the hotel with his friend. After that he returned home.
By escorting the elderly Dutch couple to hotel the two youngsters no doubt created a positive impression about the Sri Lankan values in the minds of the two tourists. The student who fought for the rights of the German tourist impressed the tourist as an honourable youngster.
However, what about the conductor? Daily thousands of tourists are being plundered and hoodwinked by the conductors, three-wheelers and peddlers. Besides, several cultural and religious sites have been made inaccessible to the tourists with the exorbitant fees charged from foreigners. More often than not the conductors and three-wheeler drivers look at white skin as gold pits. They are ignorant of the fact that not all Caucasians are affluent. There are retirees who have saved money by cutting ends to take a year end trip to this country. There are college students who have made their way up education with the help of part time jobs and visit our country with whatever little savings they have. There are enough and more cheaper destinations in the world for them if we continue to turn them back with our out of reach transport fare and other fees.
The ugly practices by bus conductors, three-wheeler operators and peddlers have been continued for too long. We are no longer a poverty-stricken third world country to ransack tourists this way.
It is high time that the Ministers of Transport and Tourism addressed this matter in the best interest of country’s reputation as a wholesome tourist destination.