Sunday, April 20, 2014

What I said in January 1996 (over 18 years ago), will happen in travel selling .... "Be Ready for Internet Shopping"

Just the other day Jetwing Chairman, Hiran Cooray's office sent me a copy of a Travel Trade Gazette - Asia (an Asian Travel Weekly published out of Singapore), for which I then wrote a monthly Travel Technology column in the mid 1990's , when I as the VP for Asia for PATA. Hiran had found this in his archive, when he was moving office and had thought I should have it. I thank him for the thought, for I had not kept any copies of such with me.

My task both through this column and the work I did for PATA, was to present emerging trends for the benefit of the Asian industry. These are photos of the January 1996 column titled "Be ready for Internet Shopping". That was 18 years ago and what today to us is a matter of fact was then and till within this decade was a far fetched dream for most of us.

I humbly present this article with the cover of the issue for you to be the judge of my ability to predict such trends, reminding you also of some of the other truisms including the way forward for tourism in Sri Lanka as a destination that will venture to genuinely and vehemently to protect and position it's natural and cultural resources, without 'killing the goose that lays the golden eggs' and the advantages the  hospitality industry can gain by taking pioneering steps in using Nanotechnology applications within the industry.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Why should frugality be a village? - Out of the Box 40

By Renton de Alwis

A repost of a column I wrote in the Daily Financial Times in October 2011 is presented for your reflection ....

Just last week during a casual search on Google for some material, I stumbled on an interesting image. It was a photograph of a road signage, which read ‘Village of Frugality’. The first thought that came to my mind was ‘Why only a village, why not the whole wide world?’ I did casually post that on my Facebook page, and moved on to other things. Several of my FB friends liked the thought and it seemed to have touched accord with their thinking. I wondered if that was because we were a likeminded flock or because the idea of being frugal was a basic human instinct.

Before we explore that thought any further, it would be good to understand what frugality truly means as a concept and a form of action. According to the Wikipedia “Frugality is the quality of being frugal, sparing, thrifty, prudent or economical in the use of consumable resources such as food, time or money, and avoiding waste, lavishness or extravagance.

In behavioral science, frugality has been defined as the tendency to acquire goods and services in a restrained manner, and resourceful use of already owned economic goods and services, to achieve a longer term goal”.

My ‘discovery’ of a ‘Village of Frugality’ continued to haunt my mind and I returned to learn more about it and thought of sharing it with you in this column, for at a time when most of world is affected by crisis caused as a result of imprudent and selfish use of resources i.e. the poverty, climate and financial crisis, ‘frugality’ as a life-style mode assumes even greater meaning and relevance. I thought it was also important for Sri Lanka as a nation to think of what frugality in our ways would mean to us, as we approach this new phase of our drive for development. 

The sign I found was real and the little known ‘Village of Frugality’ exits within the Cambria County, Pennsylvania in the USA. Even a web search on the village will not yield any evidence that the village can now be cited as an example of frugal living for times have changed and frugal living has been replaced as a culture, within the dominant Western cultural milieu, within the USA with wasteful pursuits of over indulgence and luxurious ways in their day to day living. Perhaps it is the early Dutch migrants to the USA and their roots at the village that gave it its name.

Closer to home, ‘frugality’ was a value and a trait that was valued and admired within our own culture in the not too distant past. I remember as a kid the reference to the term ‘Boru Shoak’ (meaningless extravagance or show off) being attributed to individuals and situations where there was imprudent spending on things luxurious. Austere lifestyles were considered a virtue then and people who were less extravagant were considered wise.  

There is however a very useful website and a blog called the Frugal Village ( which I came across and the search I made was well worth it for that discovery I made.
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Saturday, April 13, 2013

Encouraging the reading habit - Out of the Box 39

Renton de Alwis

It is once again Lunar New Year or ‘Aluth Auvrudhu’ time. The Sinhalese and the Hindus with all Sri Lankans celebrate this time of thanks giving, reconciliation and sharing with much joy. Upon a short break taken for reflection, I repost today a story that was written in November 2010, for the Daily Financial Times, Sri Lanka.

It is now nearly four years when this initiative was born and it has gone on without much fanfare. Nalaka and Sirisena Mama, with the three wheeler mamas of the village come together each Saturday afternoon to take books to the village, without a break,  except when Saturday falls on a Poya Day. The membership has grown from the 47 when it began in June 2010 to over 310 today. The collection of books, thanks to my friends who have donated their own books upon reading and some gifts of new ones has now grown to be over 1,500.

For three years, our members also created their own verse and prose. They were lithographed and published each month as the ‘Kiula Vimansa Athwela’. We also had several events to ‘reflect and recognize the efforts of our village’s budding writing talent. This story features one such when friend and author Daya Dissnayake visited us. We also had the evergreen environmentalist, theatre and film personality Iranganie Serasinghe and author and newspaper editor Malinda Seneviratne, visit us for similar events.

The links to the photo albums will serve to tell you those stories. Yet, the intention of making this repost, is to focus the readers attention to a simple model that can be duplicated anywhere in any village or urban area, with very modest need for money  but with consistent effort. In fact the whole operation cost me as the provider less than Rs. 5000 a month (fuel for the three wheeler and publication of the Athwela.)

If ‘reading can make a person perfect,’ our wish is that the villagers in Kiula, most of who have now cultivated the reading habit may be able to achieve some degree of that perfection and expand the dreams they have of a desirable and sustainable future.

This is a story told in pictures of a free mobile library service. The place is Kiula, a village in the Deep South of Sri Lanka. Every Saturday afternoon, a three-wheeler (tuk-tuk) leaves our home with books. Nalaka Lankadhikari, a young person living with us in the village, is its librarian. 


An idea born to uplift the reading habit of the villagers of Kiula, was the result of recollections of the bicycle book-man who came to our doorstep in our childhood and the need to expand horizons of the children, youth and adults of our adopted village.

We began the Kiula 'Kiyawana Gunaya' (good habit of reading) Mobile Library in mid June and now it is in its fourth month of operation. First week, we had 47 members for this free service, where books are taken to each villager’s door-step each week. Its membership has grown to be over 260.

Our friends shared with us their own books, their children's books and the rest came from our own collection and purchases. We also had the Kiula Funeral Aid Society contributing 150 books and villagers another 50. The total collection we now have numbers 635. These consist of creative works, books on Buddhism (all villagers are Buddhists), adaptations and translations from world literature of all-time greats, motivational books, children's readers and picture books. We also have a few Tamil and language learner-aid books and a good collection of basic-English readers and some simple but important works. These books are carefully selected for the library and are aimed at cultivating the reading habit through ease of access to books, to assist develop life skills.

Every three months an evaluation is made of what each member had read and how each had benefited. Three simple questions are asked and a short essay is written. On the first such evaluation, 63 essays were received in two groups; ages 09-15 and 16 and over.

Ten essays in both groups were selected and all were given the same level of recognition. No first, second or third prizes. The awards consisted of fruit plants, packets of vegetable seeds, useful herbal medicines, a Sinhalese- English Dictionary and a pen.

Our chief guest and speaker on the occasion was the award winning bi-lingual author Daya Dissanayake who joined us, traveling all the way from Colombo. Also with us was the monk of the village temple, the Principal of the Kiula Junior School and members of the Kiula Sinha Mituru Samajaya, operators of the three-wheelers, taking turns each week.

Mr. Dissanayake interacted with the villagers and shared thoughts on the benefits of reading and gave away the awards. Several of those recognised with awards also read out their essays. Two special awards were made to the keenest elder member aged 70 and to the keenest young member aged 7.

The event saw the participation of over 130 villagers and it was a rewarding experience for all of us who participated with many lessons learnt.
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Here are some tips on how you could develop your own service of a mobile library or encourage others to begin similar services in each village or areas in towns all over the island. Keeping it small and manageable is the first and it must be perceived as a process and a service. Divisive elements must not be engaged in its operation, and extensive consultations must be held with those who genuinely care for the well-being of the area or the village. Exercise care and be very selective in the books that are circulated avoiding having any that may cause controversy. It costs very little money to operate but needs hoards of commitment of volunteer time each week, focus and goodwill of others. In the process of building a better Sri Lanka, every drop counts and every effort no matter how small, will be significant.
For more please visit the Photo albums by clicking on these links:
 (Please browse down on this blog to find links to Kiula Vimansa Athwela)

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Sunday, April 7, 2013

Defining who we are within the tourism entertaintment scene - Out of the Box 38

By Renton de Alwis

My thoughts on the sad realities we see in our tourism in the area of entertainment for a Sunday morning read. First published in December, 2010 in the ’Daily Financial Times, Sri Lanka’.

Sunday last, in the Deep South of Sri Lanka the rain gods also played games. We had touring relatives staying with us and they were keen on getting away from watching rain drops fall on lotus leaves all day. The intermittent reading they did was not enough and they wanted to get a taste of some good Sri Lankan food and entertainment. Having missed seeing a Sinhala movie in the town of Tangalle due to lack of an audience (five of us including an American were the only ones there and it was ‘Ira Handa Yata’, a well crafted movie with a serious theme), we took off further to have dinner at the Dickwella Beach Resort. The place was well patronized and the dinning room and the surrounds were hosting a good number of mostly Italian tourists. There were also some Chinese visitors who looked like they were on a business mission.

 At dinner we had a full-bred Sri Lankan, who we later learnt was from Aluthgama, providing ‘entertainment’. Dressed up in an American cowboy outfit with leather hat and all, he was serenading each table. We heard the ‘Besami Mucho’ s and the ‘Kay Sera Sera’s sung together with our own ‘Dilhani Duwani’ and ‘Kalu Mame’, all sung on the same pitch, tone and accent. When he approached our table and asked “What songs would you like me to sing?” I said to him “Please sing a good Sri Lankan song” placing emphasis on the word ‘good’.  He began to sing ‘Dhanno Budunge Sri Dharmaskandha’, meant to be a Buddhist devotional song, strumming his guitar to the same pitch, in the same tone and accent as he did before. I begged him to stop, as I felt embarrassed as a Sri Lankan to witness a gem of a song being bastardized that way. This of course was not the first instance I had seen this happen. I have seen and heard this very song rendered by drunks at elite city parties holding a drink in hand and at other events, with various accents ranging from very British to American.

What made me wonder is why we do not make the most of the time, place and the situational advantage of tourism at most of our resorts. Calypso groups in straw-hats and American cowboys are a usual scene at dinner time at most of our beach resorts and even elsewhere. At a destination with such rich traditions and art forms, we seem to offer our visitors, what I would call ‘crap’ from a ‘nobody knows from where’ culture, for in Venice, Florence, Rome, Paris, New York, Los Angeles, Mumbai, Delhi, Beijing, Shanghai or Kunming one has the opportunity to feel and enjoy the best of their own culture, unique to each location.  

It is then that my mind’s eye went on to imagining the performances that I learnt were unfolding each week of our dance and other cultural forms in the heart of the city of Colombo at the Tourism Training Institute’s auditorium. Although I am yet to see a live performance of it, for I live far away from the city and only make it there once a month, I read much about it and saw pictures of the performances. I also heard from those who had been to see them how good they were. I venture to congratulate the team at the Sri Lanka Convention Bureau, led by Vipula Wanigasekera for taking on this most timely initiative. He himself is an accomplished musician of the classical tradition having a feel for things our own.

Bringing together the best among the best of our traditional dance and cultural forms each week is no easy task. While it is easy to make payment to already established artistic groups that perform at each and every corporate function and event, it is not easy to find the right fusion between tradition and class, drawing from the wide-array of art forms, schools and traditions we have. I often wondered why visitors to our land are not exposed more often to the real and had always to be satisfied with the fusion or the stage-crafted forms. Our ‘Kohomba Kankariya’, ‘Bali’, ‘Yaga’, ‘Thovil’  ‘Sokari’, ‘Kolam’, ‘Janagayana’ and ‘Rukada’ reperesenting ‘Uda Rata’, “Pahatha Rata”, ‘Samabaragamuwa’ and ‘Uturu’ ritualistic dance forms will be most enjoyable for visitors, for most of them prefer the real to the ‘make believe’. There are stories to be told of them and these are ways of exposing our visitors to the richness of our culture’s marvels.

During the bad times when terrorism held us back and there were only a few tourists, that was the cited reason for not having this exposure made. “It did not make good business sense” we were told. Now that the demand is a non-issue, what holds us back perhaps may be our own inability to appreciate the finesse and the richness of things of our own. I recollect how once a when I was at Sri Lanka Tourism and mentioned that we must have a performance of ‘Daha Ata Sanniya’,  a newly recruited young executive working on events quipped back, “You mean the ‘Olu Bakka’ dances?”. I was not sure at that moment, whether I was to be angry or sad. I was certainly disappointed at the lack of our understanding of what is our own.

Featuring the best of our own cultural forms to our visitors will not only be an expression of our rich and vibrant traditions, but will also be a meaningful learning experience for them. For our traditional artists, crafts-persons, dancers and performers of rituals who have been struggling for so long to keep these traditions alive, the trickle down effect of tourism, will bring in the power and ability to be vibrant again and regain their pride in their work.

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Saturday, April 6, 2013

Arrival of ‘Staycations’ and some ensuing thoughts - Out of the Box 37

Renton de Alwis

In any economic crunch tourism is usually one of the early victims in terms of contracting demand. In 2008, we saw how the concept of ‘staycations’ developed in the UK at the height of the global economic crisis.  This is a column I wrote in August 2011 for the ’Daily Financial Times, Sri Lanka’ attempted to explore how a destination like Sri Lanka could prepare to meet such challenge.

In 2008 the Sunday Times of the UK ran a story titled “Hard-up Britain: holidays turn into ‘staycations’ ” stating a Times survey report that “a third of the public said that they were switching their plans from a holiday abroad to a holiday in Britain”.  

It added “as economic gloom deepens, guest-house owners, hoteliers and restaurateurs in resorts from Scarborough to the Sicily Isles had been hoping that a perfect storm of the high euro, record oil prices and uncertain job prospects would persuade people to play safe and holiday at home this year”.

‘Staycations’ as against vacations that we were all familiar with before, entered the vocabulary of the world of travel and tourism and is now taking further shape with the likes of ‘Tips for Staycations’, ‘Staycation Ideas’ coming into the information sharing networks. In May this year a US blog site from New Jersey declared a ‘Year of the Staycation with cheap and low cost Staycation Ideas’ for that city’s folk. Englishman Michael Moran wrote the book ‘Sod Abroad: Why You'd be Mad to Leave the Comfort of Your Own Home’ adding a funny flavour to the idea of not taking vacations.   

Not so rosy

Fortunately, these have yet not become mainstream ideas among the majority but remain as potent burning coals that can fire when the going gets tougher. We all know that things have not been so rosy for the US and UK or for that matter most of the rest of the world, that form long-haul markets for tourism to Asia.

The economic down-turn that began with the deflation of the real estate market bubble, is far from being over. It is a stark reality that is hurting the world today. Most of the ‘developed world’ has lived beyond their means and attempts are made to hold the markets and economies together with some patch work solutions taking us all towards short-term comfort zones. In a recent article I wrote elsewhere, I pointed to the problems we face on the global front to be the outcome of the drop in the confidence levels we have always had on the US and other allied dominant economies.

We saw for first time in the history of the modern world, how the US dollar was de-graded of its confidence rating by the prime rating agency Standard & Poor, from its perennial top AAA to AA+. It must be said that Fitch and Moody, the other twosome in the rating business have done no such thing. It could also be assumed that they have not had ‘reason’ to yet do it. The situation in most of Europe is no better and most analysts are of the view that the situation in Europe will come to haunt the US, in the next phase of the crisis.

Who owes whom

The facts are that the US as a nation owes a huge US $ 14, 300,000,000,000 (14.3 trillion dollars), both within the country, to institutions elsewhere and to other nations in the form of debt. As is pointed out by many, this is a crisis created for US and the rest of the world for they/we have been living beyond their/our means for far too long. Greece and Ireland owe US$ 367 billion and 865 billion respectively to other European nations, while Spain and Italy owe one trillion each to France, Briton and Germany. Portugal, whose countrymen brought us our ‘Baila culture’, is another example. That country has defaulted on its national debt five times since the year 1800.

According to the US treasury figures the nation is said to have a shortfall of US $ 5.6 trillion to support the Bills and Bonds issued by the Federal Reserve to banks, a $ 1.4 trillion to meet the obligations of the savings bonds issued to its citizens through the banks, $ 1.2 trillion to China as a buyer of Treasury debt, $ 882.3 billion to Japan, $ 801.7 billion in Pension Fund investments, $ 636.4 billion in Mutual Funds, $ 519.8 billion to States and cities within the US, $ 315.7 billion to depository Institutions, $ 271.6 billion to the United Kingdom, $ 253 billion to insurance companies, $ 211.9 billion to oil exporters, $ 186.1 billion to Brazil, $ 155.1 billion to Taiwan, $ 168.1 billion to Caribbean banking centers and $ 151 billion to Russia.

Play mode

Today, we live in a world with a dominant culture dictating to us that greed is good. Consumerism based on unlimited availability of choice form a corner stone of this economic system’s architecture. There is scant regard for thriftiness, austerity or real saving. The system encourages spending on ‘useless’ goods and services and making payments for them with funds that are non-existent. Speculative spending is encouraged and is portrayed as a sign of smart maneuvering. Undue risk taking is encouraged and bubbles of schemes are created to facilitate the availability of ‘funds’ for these. ‘Playing’ the stock market is made to look like a gaming pursuit, where easy gains are sought with little or no productive effort put into it.

Choice has replaced need and the young are wooed to take on activities that are far from creating beneficial or useful wealth like production of food and/or such essentials. We have seen how follies made on the energy sphere have come to haunt nations like the recent nuclear energy crisis. We now witness wars fought for supremacy of fossil fuel ownership and access disguising them as battles for protecting human rights. We see how most technological breakthroughs made to save on natural resource use minimizing CO2 emissions, being diverted to meet production needs of luxury goods that do not serve the greater needs of human kind.   

Widening Gaps

The poor are often marginalized without access to even the basic resources. World’s Population is ageing and the need for welfare and healthcare is increasing. There are less and less opportunities for young people to be productive in useful work for ‘convenient’ and ‘smart’ work has replaced ethical hard work. Today we communicate, entertain and indulge in luxurious pursuits than contributing solid hard work to make what we need in sustainable ways. Our planning horizons have shrunk to be very short-term and most of us live without realizing the finiteness of the natural resource base on this only planet we have for ourselves and other living species. Climate change, desertification and sea level rise have become real issues and scarcity of water is posing huge problems with famine and disease still impacting on some areas.

Staycations replacing some of the vacations may not hurt us bad as Asian prosperity is making the outbound visitor markets grow, offering a base that keeps the makers of statistics on regional tourism happy and content. Yet we must not let such fool us for such visitation, given its current composition and profile may come to us at very high environmental costs placing pressure on our social-cultural and natural resources. If destinations like Sri Lanka were to look at the cream of quality travel from the hurting long-haul markets, we need to focus on a different strategy.  

Offer ‘Supercations’

Since we have got what it takes to sooth their nerves with our green or haritha backdrop and the mind-body wellness equation, we need to position ourselves to provide them a value proposition that sits uniquely distinct from the usual packaged ‘beach-based, bit of heritage and culture thrown in’ vacation. Any campaign we undertake needs to be well thought out and not be another ‘run of the mill’ effort.

We need to meet the potential threat of ‘staycations’ not with mere ‘vacations’ but with an offer of ‘supercations’ where it must be an almost therapeutic uplifting of a mind-body-spirit offer in a unique natural and cultural environment.  Unreserved protecting of our most valuable natural and heritage assets without compromising them for short-term gain will need to be firmly in place before we can reach out to the world with such offer.     
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Friday, April 5, 2013

Austere ways to avoid crisis - Out of the Box 36

Renton de Alwis

Just take a look around you of the waste... in resources, words, deeds, opulence, corruption the list can go on. This is not a blame game. But a game of  survival. We need to conserve if we are to exist. Period.

I repost this column I wrote in October 2011 for the ‘Daily Financial Times, Sri Lanka’ with the hope that there will be some thought generated to critically evaluate this position I take.  

I like to be an optimist. No matter what may happen around us I would like to retain feelings of hope I have for all human-kind and on a more intimate level for you, for me, the new-born and the to-be-born. Yet, what has already happened around me, happening now and may happen in the future, keeps bothering me and it bothers me deeply. The silver-linings I see are of the keen sense and love for nature a key segment of our youth have. I see this love demonstrated on a daily basis on the Facebook, where thousands participate on dedicated Blogs and Groups, to share their knowledge of our natural heritage while keeping a watchful-eye on wrong-doings as well.

You may have read and may recall the words Chief Seattle left for us in his famous Treaty Oration of 1854. He made a plea on behalf of his ‘Nation’ addressing the land-grabbers who sought it for private ownership driven by pecuniary motive. We were not there then.  Some of us may not even care. Yet given all ‘the water that has flown under the bridge since’, it would do us all good, if we in the least could imagine in our mind’s eye of that historic happening.

Web of Life

His inspiring words were on the value of being one with nature. "Man did not weave the web of life - he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself" he said. He went on to add “You must teach your children that the ground beneath their feet is the ashes of your grandfathers. So that they will respect the land, tell your children that the earth is rich with the lives of our kin. Teach your children what we have taught our children; that the earth is our mother. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth. If men spit upon the ground, they spit upon themselves”. He added “How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land? The idea is strange to us (the American Indian nation). If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them? Every part of the earth is sacred to my people” and made the plea “Take only memories, leave nothing but footprints.”

Before him the Buddha word had it as “To live a pure unselfish life, one must count nothing as one's own in the midst of abundance.”

I am also reminded of a line John Steinbeck wrote in his 1954 novel ‘Sweet Thursday’. That also says a lot about us humans and the relationship we have with our environment. It said “Man is the only kind of varmint who sets his own trap, baits it and then steps into it”. There were many others who had similar sentiments and thought I must share some of them with you.

Speed and direction

In Rachel Carson’s words "The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe, the less taste we shall have for destruction" and Mark Twain warned that “Civilization is a limitless multiplication of unnecessary necessities". Mahatma Gandhi’s words “Speed is irrelevant if you are going in the wrong direction” focussed on choosing the right way and Arthur Schopenhauer opined that "All truth passes through three stages: first it is ridiculed; second, it is violently opposed; third, it is accepted as being self-evident."

All of the above were words of wisdom from men and women who were not necessarily scientists, technocrats or professionals, as we know them today. As my divide between the two, I share with you two 1982 quotes, first from US political activist Ralph Nadar who aptly said “The use of solar energy has not been opened up because the oil industry does not own the sun” and US bureaucrat James G Watt who said “They kill good trees to put out bad newspapers.” They were referring to roles of business and media in positioning long-term issues that impact our environment.

Limits to growth

Now turning to science, I refer to “The Limits to Growth”, the 1972 book by Donella Meadows, the lead author and scientist of the MIT‘s computer model project that analyzed global resource consumption and production. The book was translated to 28 languages and created ripples all over the world at the time. Their results shocked the world and created stirring conversation about global 'overshoot,' or resource use beyond the carrying capacity of the planet. Jorgen Randers, and Dennis Meadows teamed up with Donella again and updated and expanded their original findings backing them with empirical evidence in “The Limits to Growth: The 30 Year Update” in 2004.

In many ways, the message contained in “Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update” is a warning. Overshoot cannot be sustained without collapse. But, as the authors are careful to point out, there is reason to believe that humanity can still reverse some of its damage to Earth if it takes appropriate measures to reduce inefficiency and waste.

Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute had this to say about that work "Reading the 30th-year update reminds me of why the systems approach to thinking about our future is not only valuable, but indispensable. Thirty years ago, it was easy for the critics to dismiss the limits to growth. But in today's world, with its collapsing fisheries, shrinking forests, falling water tables, dying coral reefs, expanding deserts, eroding soils, rising temperatures, and disappearing species, it is not so easy to do so. We are all indebted to the "Limits" team for reminding us again that time is running out."

Crisis in oil

We often are unaware of or forget that on a fateful day in October 1973, the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries or the OAPEC (consisting of the Arab members of OPEC, plus EgyptSyria and Tunisia) proclaimed an oil embargo. This was according to the OAPEC, "in response to the U.S. decision to re-supply the Israeli military" during the Yom Kippur War. The price of a barrel of crude oil supplied by these nations went up to an unprecedented high of US$ 12 from its levels of US$ 3 earlier to increase even beyond US$ 50 by 1979.

I was then a student in the US and remember the panic it caused all around me. A gallon of petrol sold at prices around 30 US cents had gone up to be over US cents 50. There was panic everywhere. Motor car manufacturers made sudden 360 degree shifts to making smaller more fuel efficient cars. Movies were made of a world without heating, air-conditioning and the usual luxuries most of the rich world is accustomed to. Talk of austerity was everywhere. Small cars came into the market and that was good business. Yet number of the big cars coming into the market did not decline and they were both being sold with the key words being “offer of options and choice to consumers”.


Right now, the world is seeing another financial crisis like it has seen never before. Several countries are unable to pay their back their debts taken earlier to keep their economies moving. The creditor countries are in a panic mode and that has caused widespread uncertainty in the global financial markets. The real estate bubble that burst in the US a few years ago is continuing to trouble that economy with unemployment and inflation still being major issues. Several disasters on the energy front (natural and manmade), has got the world’s energy pundits into a greater mess. Except for Japan, who has taken on the development of energy-saving-technological options, the rest of the developed world continues to disregard their obligations under the Kyoto Protocol. In spite of what climate science has determined, they have failed in their efforts at reducing each of their nations’ CO2 emissions. Focus is placed on the gimmicky share market type option of ‘Carbon Trading’ without due emphasis given to real reduction of emissions.

Battle for access to fossil fuel resources continue in the guise of democratisation of political systems of owning nations of these resources. Friends of the past have now turned foes and the battles are fought both overtly and covertly. Sadly they are positioned as do-good efforts by likeminded media. Most of Europe is hurting in the aftermath of riots caused by those agitating for access to social and economic opportunities.  

Is big better

In neighbouring India, where the economy is seeing fast paced growth we hear of fast speed (energy guzzler) Formula type car-races touted as a major event and see TV adverts of Grand sized vehicles being promoted while ridiculing the users of smaller vehicles. At the same time there are adjustments made to the indices of poverty measurement with political statements made of many more Indians getting over the poverty line.    

At a time when we in Sri Lanka are ‘taking off’ on a development trajectory there are many lessons here for us to learn. We do have within us and in our cultural ethos what it takes to go slow and focus on the conservation and protection of our national heritage. Yet, if we go on the premises that ‘Big is better’, ‘More is merrier’, ‘Choice is fine’ or ‘Greed is good’, taking our focus away from meeting our needs, that could lead to our destroying the unique natural and cultural resources and areas we have. That then would be a sure recipe for us to turn down an opportunity we have to be unique and successful. We could perhaps even serve as a model for the rest of the world on the practice of austerity and for our caring ways of Mother Nature.  

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Thursday, April 4, 2013

Refreshingly Tourism - Out of the Box 35

By Renton de Alwis

It happened in June 2011, but is still fresh in my memory. This morning, as I join Ape Pattauw Special Education School kids at their Aluth Avurudu (Luner New Year) celebrations and Sports meet, to share their joy and skills and I thought it apt to repost this picture story I presented in the ‘Daily Financial Times, Sri Lanka’  nearly two years ago on my blog.

It also serves to illustrate that there is value to tourism much beyond that we imagine of the beautiful beaches, attractive resorts, heritage sites and the like. A tourism, that is about education, about sharing, about caring and most of all about mutual understanding and of human bondage. These do not get registered in the statistics and economic analysts and planners have little use for such in their presentation of the success stories about tourism.

Upon reading the article I urge you to take a few moments to click on the link at the end to view the photo album that says much more than my words can tell you.

It was late morning on Monday, the week before (June, 2011). I was at the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens with a group of special-kids from ‘Ape Pattauw’ of the Deep South. They were on their annual outing and I went out there to spend a few hours with them, on the invitation of the volunteer staff-team and parents. We were all sitting around an open patch at the gardens, participating in the various acts of the kids, whose skills development is gained basically through the use of drama therapy. Unnoticed by us, a group 23 of young American students and their parents had been watching us. A little later, a parent approached us and asked for approval for the young students to entertain the special kids in our group. It was indeed a surprise and a welcome change for ‘Ape Pattauw’ and the staff-team happily nodded agreement.

The young student skip rope jump team ‘Bouncing Bull Dogs’ (BBD) from North Carolina, USA was on a two weeks tour of Sri Lanka, and this spontaneous gesture of theirs turned out to be truly amazing entertainment for the kids. They loved it and their elation and joy were written all over their faces. The twelve member team and their coach, a most humble Black American gentleman Ray Fredrick Jr., offered a half-hour of sharing and caring for the special kids like no other, they had seen before. Their performance arena was the tarred road and their backdrop the blue Sri Lankan sky and the lovely tree lines of the gardens. I later learnt that they were the US Skip Rope Jumping Champions for several years in succession and that they had travelled to many countries to demonstrate their skills. (Refer for more on them).

After its completion we got chatting. I learnt from Coach Fredrick and Dr. Lalith Perera, (a Sri Lankan scientist now domiciled in the US, whose  daughter Hasangie was also a member of the BBD skip rope jumpers), that they were tourists in Sri Lanka and part of their tourism endeavour was to share their skills with kids of Sri Lanka.

Their tour has been designed by ‘Sri Lanka Tailor Made of Jetwing Travels’ and included interactions and performances at a couple of schools in Negombo and at schools in Inamaluwa and Kimbissa near Sigiriya. According to their tour-guide Tishan Dabarera, they had opted for quality accommodation at the Beach in Negombo, Vil Uyana and Hotel Sigiriya, St. Andrews in Nuwera Eliya, Elephant Reach at Yala, Light House Hotel in Galle and the Ramada Hotel in Colombo. On the part of the Bouncing Bull Dogs, it was a tour of sharing their skills and on the part of the rural schools they touched, it was a rare opportunity for them to meet their counterparts. They came with an offer very different to the gifts of pens, pencils and other goodies, we find tourists bringing along with them usually to share with the ‘poor kids’ of Sri Lanka.

My thoughts were on their theme ‘Kids are Special’ and I realised how beneficial this interaction could be for the kids at the village school where I live in Kiula. The skills they exhibited through their act with skip ropes would be a lesson for anyone on how to reach beyond one’s perceived potential. They were not just skippers of rope, but gymnasts, acrobats and dancers all-in-one. On casual inquiry, I realised that their next locations on the tour were Yala and Galle. Since Kiula was en-route, I invited them to stop by for a few hours at the Junior School here. What I had in return was an immediate and spontaneous acceptance. Upon my return to the village later that evening, I arranged with the school administration to expect the arrival of the BBD team for a performance at the school, two days later.

The result was an overwhelming success. Performing in the gravel-laid-make-do play ground of the school, Coach Fredrick and the team got the kids and even the teachers involved in skip-rope jumping on a scale they had never done before and demonstrated various acrobatic moves and gymnastics skills that could be brought into it. In his farewell speech, the Coach told the kids “there is nothing kids could not do if they set their minds to it”. At the school, a group of mothers prepared a treat of kola kanda (herbal soup) for the visitors demonstrating how it was done with the use of traditional implements. They also were treated to tala guli (sesame sweets), local bananas and king coconuts. A kid of the Kiula school, in turn demonstrated her skills on a hula-hoop (a recent star performer at the Perahara of a village temple) and the traditional dancing team performed two items. A school prefect made a vote of thanks in English and the parting was an expression of the emotional bondage that had developed between the kids, their teachers and the visitors.

At a time when the tourism industry is seeking up-market, high yielding visitors where with minimalist use of resources and built facilities, much need be achieved, the experience offered by the Bouncing Bulldogs team of tourists, presented an example of what is possible.

Most would tag it a sports tour and push it to the low-end of the spectrum of tour arrangements. At a time when most in the industry still take the easy route of offering packaged tours where ‘more of the same’ form the recipe, these tourists and the type of tourism should open our eyes and minds to the wide spectrum of opportunities we have, that go unexplored.

With the hope that lessons will be learnt, I venture to say a big Thank You to the Bouncing Bulldogs, Coach Fredrick and the parents for their generosity and the sharing and caring they did, while they were tourists in our country. It was indeed an experience that was ‘Refreshingly Tourism’ for me and for the kids who had the fortune to meet and interact with them.   

As was said at the beginning, this is in part a picture story… the pix link is at :

Chethani of Ape Pattauw with Bouncing Bull Dogs     at the Peradeniya Gardens
Pic credit: Self

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Sri Lankan cuisine, our ethos and Chef Pablis - Out of the Box 34

By Renton de Alwis

Today I repost a cloumn I wrote about Chef Publis in January, 2011 for the “Daily Financial Times, Sri Lanka” on a visit he made to the village I live in and the lessons learnt from the interaction he had with our villagers. Hope you will enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it.

Last week my column was a photo-essay of Chef Publis in action at a village interaction. It must have told the story of how he captivated his audience in sharing his wisdom with them. Yet, there is another underlying story that those pictures could not tell and today, I venture to share it with you. The link to the pix album is given at the end of article at the bottom of his photo.

For the villagers of Kiula in the Deep South of Sri Lanka, it was not just another event. They had heard of him, seen him on television and some had even tried recipes he had created. They brought along exercise books, pieces of paper with ball-point pens to write out quantities they thought he would prescribe for new dishes. Some had imagined he would make a cookery demonstration, while some others even expected gimmicks like sing-songs, quizzes and game-shows to accompany the session, like they often see on that idiot box.

Instead, what they were treated was to a meaningful interaction that touched their very own lifestyles. It was about their families, their children, their aspirations, their health, their ethos and their belief systems. The interactive discussion began with food, nutrition and values. Chef Publis of the Mount Lavinia Hotel had come to their village for he cared for their wellbeing.  He sought to share his knowledge, experience and practise with them. He was aware, how even in rural villages such as Kiula, the influence of fast foods of convenience, was gaining ground. Television promotions and advertisements of these foods were fast replacing the nutritious and wholesome meals villagers had earlier placed pride on their meal palettes.

Chef Publis, who was conferred the Presidential Award as a Tourism Legend in 2009, referred to over 350 herbs and vegetables available in and around a village located on the borders of the wet and dry zones of Sri Lanka. That did not include the hill country vegetables the likes of carrots, leaks, beetroots and cabbage, introduced to us by our former colonial rulers. He emphasised the food and health value of most of what was found growing in abundance in backyards of homes and in shrub-forests around.

The area has “Rathu Kakulu” (Red rice), an extremely rich source of protein and other nutrients, as the predominant variety of rice that is grown. Its harvest is more than adequate to feed the entire village population, three meals of rice a day. Contrary to popular belief, he recommended that the villagers continue to consume as much rice as possible with different styles of preparations to retain variety and diversity.

Kola Kanda (herbal soup) with rice in it, Kiri Bath (Milk Rice), Mung Kiribath (Mung Bean Rice), Imbul Kiri Bath (Sweet Coconut and Juggary Rice), Red Rice flour string hoppers with Pol Sambol (Coconut Sambol) and Kiri Hodi or Pol Roti for breakfast with the accompaniment of fresh fruits and Iramusu or Beli Mal herbal drinks was second to no other breakfast spread in the world he said, in terms of nutritional value and for the quality of pleasing taste buds. References for lunch and dinner included rice or similar main dishes with the accompaniment of the rich variety of vegetables any villager can have easy access to.

Highlighting the medicinal as well as nutritional value of our many spices, he called the women-folk of the village to share their own knowledge with the audience of nearly two hundred others. He said that he himself has derived most of the recipes he tried out from those that are or have been in use in our rural homes.

He spoke of the ‘poison’ we eat as food in our cities and urged villages not to fall pray to claims of fertiliser manufactures on gaining higher yields using chemical-based substances. He called on them to use natural fertilisers and recommended composting waste as a solution for home-grown vegetable plots. 

He also spoke of the ‘Gymnasium’ each woman has in their homes and drew laughter as he referred to how most were now abandoning it to visit fancy commercial outfits. The ‘Gym’ he referred to is the kitchen with the Gym equipment being the grinding stone (Miris Gala), pounding machine (Mol Gaha/Vangdiya), sieving machine (Peneraya), separating machine (Kulla), coconut milk squeezer (Kiri Gotta) and the coconut-scraper (Hiramanaya). This traditional ‘Gym’ equipment he claimed provided exercise for all parts of the body and together with the frequent walks they made to the vegetable plots and the fields, helped keep our village folk in fine shape.

Being a village close to a banana growing area of Sri Lanka, he showed the villagers the value of that ‘Kap Ruka’ (tree from heaven) and lamented on how much of its potential was lost to us in Sri Lanka. In the Philippines, they made banana fibre dress-shirts and other utility products, in Thailand banana chips and the many other preparations enabled them to have lucrative export products bringing revenue and reducing waste of a valuable fruit.

Chef Publis has made it his life’s mission to position Sri Lankan cuisine on par with the best in the world. He confidently claims that it is the best among the best, in its taste, flavourful presentation as well as nutritional value. Coming from humble beginnings, of which he speaks with pride, he stood as a beacon in making us proud of who we are, what we are and what we can be, in reassuring the folk of the Kiula village a little over week ago. It was part of his voluntary effort of placing community before self, in visiting to share knowledge and experience, at as many places as possible in Sri Lanka.    
Pic credit: Self

A Photo Album of his visit and the session he had can be seen at this link:


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Creating a kinked demand - Out of the Box 33

By Renton de Alwis

Today more than ever there is talk about the why and the how of us as a nation, living up to our promise and potential. There is talk about our decaying image in the international arena and many solutions are presented. It must be admitted that like many others we are also a nation that is a pawn in a global chess board like agenda. We have had our ups and downs... more downs than ups and are now offered an opportunity to make it work for us. To seek true reconciliation, to be what we claim we are, and be the true wonder we can be. That then and nothing else would be the way to make us be a sought after and respected nation, worthy of being placed on a kinked demand curve.

I repost an article I wrote for the ‘Daily Financial Times, Sri Lanka’ in October, 2010 for your critical review.

My first ever travel out of Sri Lanka was in 1973. I remember that experience vividly and enjoy its recall with much joy. As a cub university teacher seeking post-graduate studies on a scholarship, I was then heading to the USA, I had to get a visa and that was no issue at all. My credentials were in order and no one looked at me with the suspicion that I would not return back to my country, would seek political asylum or cry of discrimination in my motherland to get residence status in America.

On my way, I stopped by in Hong Kong to catch my connection. At the time administered by the British, the reception at the Hong Kong airport’s immigration was excellent. No issues at all; visa stamp chopped a welcome smile and off I went. I completed my sojourn in the USA and returned in 1976 via Japan, where a holiday was spent. Once again, kindness and caring at its best it was, with an excellent reception for us, as Sri Lankans.

Many visits thereafter to several other countries for conferences, meetings and other events on my chosen professions, coast conservation and later tourism, it was the same warm cordiality. The Sri Lankan passport was accepted and we as Sri Lankans were welcome everywhere. We had a reputation as an emerging nation with a literate and a well-educated population thanks to the system of free education we had in place since the 1930s. We had several eminent Sri Lankans in leadership positions in most world bodies, some breaking new ground, setting new vistas. We were touted to be the next socio-economic miracle of Asia, a regional conference venue and promoted as the pearl of the Indian Ocean.

Slide down

Then, in the 1980’s we began to witness the slide down. Many policy follies and wrong turns taken in the body polity in Sri Lanka since the 1950s, began to manifest and unfold in several different forms. A misguided nationalism, weak economic fundamentals, youth uprisings, communal disharmony and systems of bad governance all culminated to bring out the worst in us as a nation, with the unfortunate and dastardly incidents we now dub ‘Black July’. A terrorist movement raised its head taking credence behind the fact that there was then an acclaimed racial divide.

Nearly thirty years later and loss of many innocent lives on a conflict that hurt Sri Lanka deep down to the core of its social, economic and cultural existence, it finally ended, with a definitive strike and the annihilation of the leadership of the terrorist forces.

Celebrate diversity

With that behind us a huge responsibility now falls on those who represent us in governance, as well as all of us, to ensure that we do not fall back into that rut again. The efforts of all right thinking Sri Lankans should now be directed to rebuild a Sri Lanka, where there is unity, equality in access to opportunities and fair-play for all her citizens regardless of race, class or creed. A Sri Lanka where all her citizens can celebrate their diverse cultures in harmony with love and affection of each other, replacing feelings of mistrust, hatred and disharmony, which became the sad reality that broke our nation’s conscience.

As a fellow columnist in this journal recently wrote, as Sri Lankans we now need to have confidence that we can make it happen. He wrote that we must begin to believe in ourselves and our ability to shine in the world at large. We need to recognise that amidst all the chaos and weak links we have in our structures of governance and the many misdemeanours we witness, there is also huge unexplored potential.

New ethos

That potential includes not only innovating and developing new ventures, but also establishing a new ethos for managing them. Fair-play, equal opportunity, shunning corrupt practises without aiding and abetting mal-practise and bribery, transparency, accountability to the society at large, must all be part of that ethos. 

We also must realise and believe that we as citizens and leaders of business have what it takes, to unleash that potential on behalf of our Motherland. No matter what sector of the economy we operate in or what racial, religious or political beliefs we hold, it is our responsibility to believe in ourselves and lend our hearts and minds to build that otherwise elusive unity and harmony to see that Sri Lanka becomes a true ‘Wonder of Asia’.

The reality is that as a defined land mass, our country is indeed a ‘land like no other’. Within a little space of twenty five thousand square kilo-meters, this island of ours is blessed with a diverse natural, cultural and human resource base, unmatched by any other of its size. The reality is also that much of it was lost to us as a nation, for much of our actions as demonstrated in our recent history did not justify our inheritance of riches bestowed on us by Mother Nature and those that lived before us.

While we are blessed with the resources, a heritage, cultural diversity and a pool of talented people, what we now need is the resolve to believe in ourselves that we can regain and re-establish what we had lost along the way, as a nation.

We need to redefine our own thinking of who we must be and what we can become. No matter what critics may say and other partisan elements may attempt, we need to begin to see our Motherland, Sri Lanka as nothing less than being unique, precious and serendipitous. Such can not be presented in the world at large or within the world of tourism, as just another good or a service where the normal demand curve of ‘lesser the price, higher will be the demand’ principle. A gem needs to be presented and marketed as a gem and the demand concept that defines how a gem is marketed is that of the ‘kinked demand’ principle. The anti-thesis of the normal demand principle, it is based on the premise of ‘higher the price, higher will be the demand’.

Beyond Visas

The recent decision of the government to do away with visas on arrival and adopt a system of applying for visas on-line was received by the tourism sector as a certain deterrent for the future development of the industry in Sri Lanka. In a situation where what we have is a level play field of visa free travel around the world, this indeed will be a certain deterrent. That we know, is not so. In a world ridden with insecurity and uncertainty where threats of terrorism is real, the watchful eyes of all need to be focussed on preventive measures to ensure that there is room for better human understanding and peaceful coexistence, to take root.

In my mind, what we as citizens and business leaders in tourism could do to overcome the perceived deterrent will be to rethink and redefine the way we comprehend and market our offer in the tourism market place. Associated with the concepts of positioning and branding as we know them, we would do well to reposition and re-brand our nations offer on a fresh platform.

Task for all

The kinked demand principle may serve us well here, in shaping our thinking. This is no easy breakthrough or journey for any one sector. It needs to be the culmination of all sectors and players of our society and economy. The political and social leadership has a lot to offer those in business in giving credence to our ability to take on that challenge.

We as a nation can not only rely on our natural and cultural heritage and the inherent caring ways of our rural folk. We will together need to horn those further and ensure that we indeed become the ‘wonder’, where good governance, equal access to opportunities and justice for all blend with the unique natural, cultural and heritage endowments we possess.

A hard but a doable task indeed, to make Sri Lanka most desirable as a nation seeking true unity within her diversity for all her citizens, while also becoming a much sought after destination for discerning traveller visitors.
Pic credit: Harsh Milhan