She came across my article about Sri Lanka being expensive for tourists and contacted me personally to voice her concern that this is not the case. Sri Lanka, she admits, has become quite expensive especially after the Civil War ended back in 2009. Having lived most of her life in London, Ishara says that in some ways Colombo is more expensive than London. In fact when she returned to her country about five years ago, they wasn’t even a proper road leading from the airport to Colombo city. So a lot of development has taken place in the last five years.
What has happened, she explained, is that the government has heavily taxed most of the utilities as well as FMCG businesses. So electricity is charged exorbitantly. Super markets like Food City and John Keells are being heavily taxed by the government, which in turn means that they pass on the taxes to the consumer.
But it doesn’t mean, Ishara points out, that the poor class suffers. According to her, the poor class mostly living in the small towns and villages seldom uses electricity, grows most of the food by themselves, and whatever little they need to buy they do it from small stores and shops which doesn’t come under the government tax net and as such are quite cheap. So they are not affected by these policies and exorbitant rates.
Ishara De Silva says that the only people which have to bear the brunt of these taxes and inflated cost of living are the affluent and middle class, along with the tourists too. Tourists may feel they’re being ripped off by virtue of their being tourists, but that’s not the case, Ishara points out. She elaborates that people don’t go out of the way to change prices for the tourists. Whatever price is written on the label applies equally to both locals and tourists.
When I pointed out to Ishara de Silva about the discrimination I felt at the entrance of most of the resorts and temples, she said that there are two types of fees at such places. There’s the subsidized rates, which are for the locals, and the normal rates for the tourists. The rates are subsidized for the locals because the government wants to incentivize and encourage them to visit places that showcases their culture and tradition. Many of the locals visiting these places are poor people from far away towns, but the government can’t differentiate between the really poor people and the affluent locals. So a uniform policy subsidized policy for all locals without discrimination. However, for the tourists, a full rate is charged.
Ishara De Silva, agrees that although tourism has really spiraled after end of Civil War, the development has not been able to keep pace with the boom. As such, you would not be able to experience the same level of streamlined services that you would in a developed country like Thailand.
But that doesn’t mean things are bad or anything. It’s just that Sri Lanka is in a state of transition.
It’s good to see conscientious Sri Lankans taking an interest and caring about what tourists coming to their island have to say about their country. And it’s even more heartening to see women like Ishara De Silva are taking the lead.