Travel Information – the Front Office of Tourism

Tourism is certainly on the rise in Sri Lanka, and very good too.

This is my second visit to this lovely country in the past three years, first during the tragic war that saw a mere trickle of foreign visitors and now almost two years after peace was achieved, giving a major boost to tourism. The statistics of arrivals are impressive, and the government and tourism industry must be concerned about serving this steady increase in arrivals, with the lack of tourist infrastructure. One must hope that building for more tourists does not damage the beauty of nature, and the lure of profit does not diminish the friendship of the people, tomorrow.

The purpose is to draw attention to some issues of today. The first, and most importantly, it is about Travel Information. It is generally accepted that a Travel Information Centre, is the actual Front Office of the Tourism Industry in a country. It has to be easily accessible and ready with the answers that tourists have. On the matter of access, I have found it very difficult, and in fact a trying experience, to reach the TIC in Colombo by telephone. Pressing the keys on the phone as instructed, even by a friendly voice, and yet holding on listening to what must be a good Sri Lankan melody complete with rhythmic drums for many, many minutes at a time, can test the patience of any visitor.  Surely, there must be some way in which arrangements are made for the telephone to be answered after at least the fifth ring and the information one seeks given. Speed of response is of the essence in Travel Information. Why can’t there be a special number for Travel Information, instead of being channelled through an exchange? This cannot be a big infrastructure problem.

It does not help tourism for Travel Information to give the impression that it is understaffed or overworked, or worse that it does not care to answer the phone fast enough. On most occasions the quality of information is poor or insufficient and lacks being up to date.

Also, on Tourist Information, why is it that the TIC in Colombo and in Kandy, are almost never able to provide a good Travel Guide to visitors who call over. There are plenty of attractive brochures on a range of topics freely handed out, but nothing that gives the real up-to-date information in one book. One does not look for glossy books but one that can give good facts – the information that a tourist seeks about current events, festivals, cultural events, restaurants and dining out etc. One of the best books of this genre I have seen in this region is “Travel Lanka”, which Sri Lanka can be proud of. Unfortunately this is available only in limited numbers at bookstores, and hardy ever at the TICs. It is a book that helped me much when I was here in 2008; given by a friend. This time too I’ve had to borrow one from another visitor, as stocks out at bookstores and the Travel Information Counters. It is a book that will make the work of those serving visitors at the counter very much easier, and one they could even learn from. 

Also, one is at a loss to understand why the leading hotels in Colombo deliberately discourage the use of the “tuk-tuk” or three-wheeler. There are notices at some hotels warning against their use, although it is such an interesting (maybe even daring) experience to travel in one. I have made some inquiries, and was told that they charge high prices that are not regulated, and that the drivers cannot be trusted. Yet, on further inquiry I have found there are many “tuk-tuks’ that have meters for charging, and my experience of the drivers of these have been very satisfying. Also, the obnoxious practice of big hotels trying to make more money from car hires by false warnings to tourists about the three –wheelers should be officially discouraged.

These are a few thoughts I draw attention to as I prepare to leave this beautiful country, with the promise of coming many more times. There are other improvements that can be done to the Sri Lankan tourism product, and I shall write about them later.

Ayubowan – I’ve learnt the greeting. 

Johnston William
Leicestershire – UK

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