A conversation with hotelier Paloma Scott
Mirissa made headlines for an unpleasant incident earlier this month and the authorities immediately reacted to it by taking actions like suspending the activities of the restaurant and removing unauthorised establishments along the Mirissa coastal belt. Hence, work is in progress to safeguard the tourism industry in the country, with special focus on the South. Having been in the tourism industry for six years, Unawatuna Beach Resorts (Pvt) Ltd Managing Director Paloma Scott recently expressed her concerns about the attitudes men have towards white women. She was born in England (London) to Sri Lankan and Scottish/English parents. When her brother discovered Unawatuna, Paloma was determined to change her career plans and get involved in the tourism industry instead. In a candid interview with the Daily Mirror, Paloma expressed her views about how the beach culture has changed over the years, the disgusting attitudes of Sri Lankan men towards foreign women and offered a few tips to foreigners who travel to Sri Lanka in future. Excerpts :
- The moment people see a white face in their shops their prices start skyrocketing
- Young children should be taught how women should be respected since this problem should be addressed from the grassroots level.
- English is the language of the law in this country and it is a sign of education
- The idea of service in Sri Lanka has gotten mixed up with the idea of servitude
- I guess Thailand does a better job in keeping people safe
- Three-wheel drivers ask the most intimate questions the moment I step into a three-wheeler
- Therefore the availability of technology and porn videos in particular, changes people’s attitudes
Q From when you first discovered Unawatuna what changes have you seen in the beach culture?
Unawatuna is a very particular case because when you go to the hotel the curve of the beach was a bit like Mirissa. In 2012 we lost the beach when the coastal conservation department, with the guidance of the Rajapaksa Government, decided in their wisdom to build a breakwater. It was ideally to protect the corals destroyed by the tsunami. None of the villagers knew about it and when it started in June or July in 2012 the beach started to disappear.
I still have friends in London who would text me and ask whether I’m safe in Sri Lanka. I don’t think that the people around the world look at Sri Lanka in a positive way. Every time there is a bad news in Sri Lanka it spreads so fast and gets the attention of international media in a matter of seconds
They built the breakwater very quickly, but their calculation proved to be slightly wrong because the water came in with great speed and took all our sand towards the Western side of the reef. Nobody speaks about such incidents, but I decided to voice out my concerns because nobody can take away anybody’s beach and it affected the industry. I started getting help and eventually the Rajapaksa regime immediately attended to the matter. They pumped the sand in and within two weeks we had the biggest beach in down South. So Unawatuna went from being an intimate coast to an enormous beach and it attracted a different group of tourists. I market my hotel as a family oriented hotel and 50% of guests are Sri Lankans and the rest are from all over the world. I hear of various incidents around the coastal belt in the South, but so far I haven’t heard of such incidents happening in Unawatuna.
Q How have ‘beach boys’ become a menace in the area?
I personally haven’t had any serious incidents with beach boys, but there have been incidents with various drug dealers. There are one or two wandering around, but they keep clear when I’m around. There are guests who attract them as well. There are no incidents of beach boys harassing women in Unawatuna, but I see that Mirissa has a big problem.
Mirissa has many night clubs along the shore, but Unawatuna mainly has restaurants and bars except for one or two night clubs with loud music even after 11.30pm. But if I have a party at my hotel I have to finish it off by 11.30pm and its sad how one rule works for me and there is another rule for the rest. I feel that if I was a man this wouldn’t have been so. But because I am a woman it doesn’t really matter and that is one example of bullying.
Q In your recent write up on socail media you have mentioned about authorities lagging behind in their duties. What are your observations on how they respond to incidents involving violence and harassment?
I think part of it is to do with liquor and cigarettes because men speak that language. They trade in that and the authorities turn a blind eye to these incidents. But when there’s a woman involved they can’t do that and I definitely will not give them liquor or cigarettes. Most of these officers are not well educated and they don’t speak English.
English is the language of the law in this country and it is a sign of education. They hide behind their inability to speak English and use it as a tool to bully and harass people like me. What I find is that they do understand English although they can’t speak and it’s a useful mechanism for them to hide behind it and act as if they knew nothing. Most of the forms we get to fill are in English or Sinhala, but not Tamil.
The Tamil diaspora is very powerful and the world outside already views Sri Lanka as an unsafe destination to travel to. The Sinhalese community has failed to counter argue about the war and in Britain, Canada and Norway there is a bias towards a minority interest
But they have to be written in Tamil as well since this is a trilingual country. In Britain documents are available in over 10 different languages although it is a monolingual country. The third reason is the male chauvinist attitudes towards a white woman. They have this incredible habit of being rude in front of me and most of them can’t even look at me and shake my hand. That has nothing to do with language and they are basic manners which are lacking in most people. This is why I have mentioned in my article that a white woman is viewed as a peculiar aberration and they don’t have any respect towards foreign women. This is my experience.
Q Does this also go in line with the belief that men have a tendency to harass women because they watch a lot of pornography?
Quite interestingly I too have had a theory as to why Sri Lankan men, particularly three-wheel drivers ask the most intimate questions the moment I step into a three-wheeler. They ask if I would like to come back to their house and similar questions. I’m old enough to be their grandmother and they just think that because you are in a foreign land and since you are alone, you are ‘up for grabs’. I would never even dream of asking them or their wives these questions. So yes, because they look at all these videos and because there is a liking for white flesh and because they see a lot of white women in porn videos they believe that we do it all the time. Therefore the availability of technology and porn videos in particular, changes people’s attitudes towards white women.
Q The Sri Lankan tourism industry is still in its developing stages. Don’t you think that incidents such as what happened in Mirissa will put a black mark against the country?
I think the Government, big hotel owners and operators should lead this mission. As I understand that many tourism-related businesses are owned by ministers or they have their hand in it. The best thing they could do is promote Sri Lanka as a safe destination for tourists to travel to and take action against the culture of objectifying women. Since Sri Lanka is a Buddhist country and people are heavily inspired by the Buddhist culture, young children should be taught how women should be respected since this problem should be addressed from the grassroots level.
Another observation is that the moment people see a white face in their shops their prices start skyrocketing. A Sri Lankan coming to Britain would pay the same price as the person next to him, but this is not the case in Sri Lanka
The Tamil diaspora is very powerful and the world outside already views Sri Lanka as an unsafe destination to travel to. The Sinhalese community has failed to counter argue about the war and in Britain, Canada and Norway there is a bias towards a minority interest. I still have friends in London who would text me and ask whether I’m safe in Sri Lanka. I don’t think that the people around the world look at Sri Lanka in a positive way. Every time there is a bad news in Sri Lanka it spreads so fast and gets the attention of international media in a matter of seconds.
Q Countries such as Thailand for instance also have a beach culture, but tourists are safe there. What makes this difference?
I think there may be incidents in Thailand and because it is a large country they have a very sophisticated tourist industry. I see that they have a culture of service. The idea of service in Sri Lanka has gotten mixed up with the idea of servitude. No one wants to be a servant or be in servitude. I think another problem for politicians and the tourist industry is how to inculcate the idea of service and how do you inculcate the fact that tourists should be treated in the same hospitable manner as how you would treat a guest who visits your house. I’m sure you would immediately ask ‘have you eaten?’ This should be the benchmark for the tourist industry. In that case people would spend money and come here rather than going to Thailand. I guess Thailand does a better job in keeping people safe, it may be that they are clever at covering any problems they have.
Q What tips could you offer foreigners who travel to Sri Lanka?
I would say that they should dress appropriately. It is not about covering themselves from head to toe, but a lot of them should dress properly. This is because most white women are viewed differently to Sri Lankan women and white women tend to emphasize all the wrong bits in their body. If you are wearing something that’s revealing your body parts, it would draw the attention of people around you irrespective of whether you are walking down a street in London or in Sri Lanka. Other than that it does help to know a little bit of the language and it does help that you shouldn’t haggle on the smallest amount of money. I see this mostly in foreigners and a little Rs. 100 is nothing. Another observation is that the moment people see a white face in their shops their prices start skyrocketing. A Sri Lankan coming to Britain would pay the same price as the person next to him, but this is not the case in Sri Lanka. Also just like anywhere don’t go out at night and don’t get involved in drugs or booze until you don’t know where you are.
I started getting help and eventually the Rajapaksa regime immediately attended to the matter. They pumped the sand in and within two weeks we had the biggest beach in down South. So Unawatuna went from being an intimate coast to an enormous beach
Q As a hotelier do you see a bright future for the tourism industry?
Not at the moment. I say this simply because there are many opportunities to not repeat the same mistakes as in other parts of the world. I think this should start from kindergarten. Children should be taught not to throw rubbish and pollute the environment. We are heading towards a crisis because there are many plastic bottles that get washed onto the shore. The authorities have turned a blind eye on these issues once again. Sri Lanka is a fabulous country and we don’t have to do much. We are far ahead than India because you don’t fall ill. The ‘male collective’ should change their attitudes towards women and women should be encouraged to enter the workforce as well. We have all the natural resources in abundance and we need to protect them before the country turns into a desert.