Sri Lanka’s authorities and tourism industry players alike are making clear their opposition to attempts by some hotels to deny service to domestic visitors.
The issue came to the fore last week when provincial councils minister Faiszer Musthapha told reporters that Sri Lankan tourism authorities had been instructed to take legal action against offenders who turn away local visitors.
Musthapha said many Sri Lankans visiting the Unawatuna and Mirissa areas in the south had been barred from certain hospitality establishments. Some Sri Lankans took to social media to vent their anger and calling on the government to take action against this “apartheid-type” policy. Further instances of displeasure about the policy came last month when small guesthouses and restaurants on the beach were reportedly displacing ‘foreigners-only’ signboards.
Sri Lankans account for 30 per cent to 50 per cent of total room and F&B revenue in these destinations.
“We wholeheartedly support efforts by the authorities to stop such discrimination,” commented Sanath Ukwatte, chairman of the Tourist Hotels Association of Sri Lanka (THASL).
Separately THASL stated in a media release: “This practice involves a type of discrimination which is not only unethical but also a clear violation of the principle of equality of treatment enshrined in the Constitution of Sri Lanka.”
Local inbound agent Harith Perera, managing director, Diethelm Travel Sri Lanka/Maldives, agreed with his hotel industry counterparts, saying: “We strongly support the view that there shouldn’t be any discrimination against locals. Furthermore foreigners love to associate with locals, love local curries, cuisine and culture.”
Industry experts shared that such forms of discrimination extended to a few high-end small boutique hotels run by foreigners who told locals, on inquiring about rooms, that the venue was “full” or that it was for non-Sri Lankans only.
Meanwhile, lending insight to the possible intention behind banning locals, Siri Goonewardene, who founded the Coral Sands hotel in southern Hikkaduwa 42 years ago, said these incidents were mostly prevalent in the informal sector and were a response to sometimes unruly locals and brawls that broke out. “However, these should be tackled internally and with police intervention without (having to ban) locals,” he added.
One of the hoteliers who resorted to the policy was quoted in the local media as saying that “when our people are there, there is no freedom for foreigners. Local boys come and harass foreign women”.