Hygiene and cleanliness…an integral part of tourism

Many tourists enjoy using public transport

Ivan Alvis

I guess, some of you may wonder why I’ve touched on hygiene and cleanliness where tourism is concerned.

Well, the following galvanized me into action, and I wasn’t surprised at all when a foreign family, visiting Sri Lanka, in early January, inquired from me about the garbage, plastic bags, etc., strewn everywhere in the city!

I explained that the authorities in charge are doing their best to beautify Sri Lanka and that before long we would be proud of our tag the ‘Wonder of Asia.’ Remember, all this was before the COVID-19 virus became a monster issue, worldwide.

However, I was nonplussed when this very same family, with a rather worried look, wanted to know whether some of our folk are suffering from a throat infection!

What! I said no way…why?

Then they explained to me that they did travel by bus and tuk-tuk, just to experience the difference, and that they noticed passengers in the bus, including the driver, and the driver of the tuk-tuk, constantly spitting out a red kind of substance which they took to be blood.

Hold and behold! I then realized that they were referring to these guys chewing beetle and spitting out…saliva that was red in colour!

I was a bit embarrassed but gave my explanation in the best possible way I could, in such an awkward situation, but the family seemed shocked that such action is allowed, in public buses, and roads.

They did say they saw something similar in some parts of India, and thought it was a throat infection, but didn’t expect to see it in the city of Colombo, as well.

Luckily, COVID-19 had not moved into top gear, at that point in time!

It’s no exaggeration that spitting on the road, and public places, is a common sight in Sri Lanka.

Whenever I use public transport, I’ve noticed this disgusting scene; bus drivers, passengers, etc., chewing beetle and then spitting out, unconcerned about the other road users.

Bus drivers, in particular, also have a tendency to wash their mouths and then spit out, on to the road.

If one was to check some of the bus halts, where buses are stopped for a short while, one would see the results…plenty of dried up red saliva.

It’s certainly an ugly scene and doesn’t do our country, and our drive for a bigger percentage of the tourism industry, any good.

The faces of the foreign family, who chatted with me, said it all.

This kind of ill-mannered behaviour by Sri Lankans, should not be tolerated and The Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA), along with the Health Ministry, and other relevant authorities, should step in and get a ban imposed on spitting, and spitting out chewed beetle, from any vehicles, on public roads.

In fact, this is the best time to implement such a rule, now that COVID-19 is taking the world by storm and the virus is said to be connected with saliva.

I’m sure the public would certainly take such a ban seriously, going by what COVID-19 is doing to the world population…with saliva being the main cause.

Public places should not be turned into a spittoon for those chewing beetle.

Those who have been to Singapore, and, I’m sure those connected with the SLTDA would know the rules…yes, littering, and spitting, is an offence in Singapore.

Unlike in Sri Lanka, the Lion City is not a place for spitters!

In Singapore it’s illegal to spit in coffee shops and markets on public roads, sidewalks and any other place that’s open to the public.

If you break this law I’m told, you’ll be slapped with a fine of up to Singapore $1,000.

Under the Environmental Public Health Act, the maximum fine for a littering offence is $2,000 for the first court conviction, $4,000 for the second conviction, and $10,000 for the third and subsequent convictions.

Sometime last year, a man was fined $300 for shooting two rubber bands into the air that landed on a public road.

National Environment Agency officers saw it and informed him of the littering (offence) and issued him an enforcement ticket.

Some others activities listed as offences in Singapore are:

* Flush! Public Toilets…or face the consequences!

* Smoking in public

* Importing, selling or manufacturing chewing gum

I absolutely agree with these rules and regulations. I’ve been to Singapore a few times and I would say it’s probably the cleanest country I’ve been to.

If we are seriously thinking of attracting the big-spending holidaymakers, we need to look at the hygiene and cleanliness side of Sri Lanka, as well.

The big-spenders wouldn’t want to pick a destination where spitting in public places, is a common sight.

I hope the SLTDA wouldn’t go into a slumber now that the tourist industry, throughout the world, has hit rock bottom, due to the Coronavirus pandemic, and believe that being active at this point in time wouldn’t be beneficial.

If they do think on those lines, then when the travel boom does happen, we would be left with only the sprats.

I also honestly think that the SLTDA should work out a formula with hotels and other holiday resorts that come under their jurisdiction, where local entertainers are under contract to provide entertainment for guests – both local and foreign.

One must bear in mind that entertainment is an essential part of the tourist industry, but I don’t believe the SLTDA thinks on those lines.

Guests visiting hotels and other tourist outlets have to be kept entertained, musically, and some of our guys do excel in that department.

But, when an unfortunate incident crops up (COVID-19, for example), quite a few of our entertainers are left destitute – no money to keep the home-fires burning!

They are told by their employers, that their services are not needed, and, regrettably, they have no one to turn to for assistance.

Amongst those affected by all economic activity coming to a standstill owing to COVID-19 are calypso band members (Courtesy TripAdvisor)
Amongst those affected by all economic activity coming to a standstill owing to COVID-19 are calypso band members (Courtesy TripAdvisor)

It happened last year, too, soon after the bomb explosions on Easter Sunday; absolutely no work for our entertainers.

I think this is grossly unfair because our entertainers certainly spend a fair share of their money and time, to keep guests entertained.

And, what’s more, even when the going is good, our entertainers are given a raw deal by such employers; some call it discrimination.

Whenever foreign artistes are contracted to perform at most venues in the city, they are given-five star treatment, with hotel accommodation, better salaries, food, etc., while their Sri Lankan counterparts have to make do with peanuts.

Moreover, even when there is work for our performers, employers do not pay them EPF and ETF.

They don’t reap the benefits paid to tax-paying formal employees.

Right now, for them, it is survival mode until the pandemic eases and the scene is back to normal.

The Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority has a lot to do to upgrade our tourism industry, and this is the time to get cracking – working out plans that would benefit our entertainers, as well.

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