Top News Sri Lankan hoteliers commit to rebuilding tourism responsibly By Karen Yue / Posted on 19 January, 2023 11:29 Despite tourism challenges, two Sri Lankan hotel players have remained firm in their efforts to uplift local communities as they rebuild their business. Homegrown Teardrop Hotels, which has seven hotels across the country, maintains at least nine community projects, according to Manoj Devaraj, group head – sales and marketing. Teardrop Hotels and Shangri-La’s Hambantota Golf Resort & Spa are relying more on local food producers, one of their ways to ensure the local community benefits from tourism business Each hotel has an adopted charity organisation, while the head office supports two others – Teardrop Care Centre for Children with Disabilities, where the company is the main sponsor for Volunteers to Assist Children with Disabilities’ Welimada centre, scheduled to open this year; and a collaboration with the Tea Leaf Trust, where the company provides employment opportunities for impoverished young people raised on tea estates as well as organises field trips and workshops to expose these youths to personal growth opportunities in the tourism industry. The team at Fort Bazaar, a hotel set within the historic port city of Galle, supports Sambodiya Home with regular infrastructural refurbishment and maintenance. Recalling the progress of the hotel’s work with Sambodiya Home, Devaraj said efforts initially were not structured. It took a partnership with Travelife in 2020 to realise that a guided approach was needed for work to be meaningful. “Travelife also led us to scrutinise our use of resources and cut down on imported items,” added Devaraj. As a result, Teardrop Hotels has improved the conditions of its four fruit and vegetable gardens across the country so that more produce could be harvested for use in hotel kitchens. Today, 30 per cent of its fruit and vegetable supplies are from these gardens. Seafood, meats and other ingredients are also obtained from local producers “as much as possible”. Close to 85 per cent of ingredients used in Teardrop Hotels kitchens are now locally sourced – up from about 60 per cent pre-pandemic. “We have even looked at how suppliers work with us,” he added. To encourage local producers to deliver orders more sustainably, the company supplied reusable, stackable crates. “The pandemic and import disruptions made us realise that relying on local producers is more reliable, offers greater value, and enables us to support our own people,” Devaraj said. The slow return of tourism business has not dampened the company’s community commitment. Devaraj said: “Some of them were initiated during the pandemic, and we continue to do whatever we can with the manpower and resources we currently have.” Over at Shangri-La’s Hambantota Golf Resort & Spa, efforts have been ongoing the past three months to raise the digital literacy of the teachers at a local village school. The effort is a long-term investment to build a more tech-savvy pool of young people that the hotel and other businesses could eventually hire. General manager Refhan Razeen told TTG Asia: “Tourism will return to Sri Lanka, and we need to be prepared for that. One way is to work on local human resources.” Next on Razeen’s to-do list is the establishment of a hotel school in Hambantota, “which will give locals a chance for employment at both Shangri-La hotels here and in Colombo”. He said the “plans are drawn up” and awaiting approval from the top. Besides investing in education, the hotel will soon launch the Green Passport, a hotel-wide sustainability programme with a goal of 15 Rs – Respect, Rethink, Responsible, Resource, Restore, Reduce, Reuse, Repair, Reclaim, Replace, Refill, Refocus, Recycle, Refuse and Reward. Fleshing out the objectives of some of the Rs, he said Rethink would involve reviewing daily practices towards a sustainable future, while Restore would mean fixing damaged items so that they could continue to be used and not simply thrown away. Razeen acknowledged that the Green Passport is “an ambitious project”, but it provides a clear structure for all staff to follow through on their sustainable journey. A green champion will be appointed to lead topical efforts, such as water conservation, and come up with an action plan to bring ideas to fruition. Razeen is hopeful that achievements could be used as case studies for other Shangri-La hotels as well as for local university students specialising in sustainability. To further support the local community, Razeen is looking to engage a village near Yala to produce and supply the hotel with vegetables. “This community is dependent on wildlife safari, which is seasonal. By having them grow and supply food to our hotel, they can earn income during the off-season,” he explained.