Henry Fitch of Teardrop Hotels updates us on how Sri Lanka has evolved in a new set of challenges
How did Teardrop Hotels cope with the closing of Sri Lanka’s borders?
During the months of April and May, when the government of Sri Lanka imposed an island-wide curfew, the staff worked on deep cleaning the properties, beautifying the gardens and refining our menus, with the aim of being prepared to welcome guests once travel within the country was permitted.
The management’s key focus during this time was safeguarding the jobs of our employees. I am proud to say that we have managed to retain all our workforce.
Have you been working on any special refurbishment projects in any of your hotels during the pandemic?
Despite the unusual times, Teardrop Hotels unveiled the latest addition to its portfolio, Lunuganga. This marvellous nine-bedroom retreat, located along the banks of Dedduwa Lake in Bentota, was once the country home of Sri Lanka’s most celebrated architect, Geoffrey Bawa.
At Wallawwa our gardening teams at the tea bungalows have spent weeks planting and cultivating a huge selection of herbs, fruit and vegetables for our restaurants – and we are being rewarded with some amazing produce!
What can visitors expect from your hotels when they can return?
For starters, we have implemented strict new safety and hygiene measures across our properties with daily temperature checks, staff wearing masks and hand sanitiser easily accessible to all. Secondly, the deep cleaning and garden work means that our hotels are looking better than they ever have.
An important point to note is that Teardrop Hotels have engaged in the services of two specialist doctors, Dr. Changa Kurukularatne & Dr. Aseni Wickramatillake, world-leading experts in infectious diseases, occupational health and outbreak management. The three-day workshop involved mapping out an entire guest journey and training the staff in all the relevant Covid-19 hygiene and safety guidelines. Our hotels were – and still are – some of the most safe and hygienic properties on the island.
How does Sri Lanka feel without visitors?
I believe that the current situation has created an opportunity to reset. There were already signs that some areas of tourism were broken – with overcrowding, ineffective visitor management and political interference, to name a few. We now have the time and space to work on these flaws and return better than we were.
Sri Lanka has also done a remarkable job of keeping Covid-19 in check, and that in turn has led to an increase in domestic travel. Locals are taking advantage of the empty tourist attractions. Although this doesn’t necessarily feel the same as having nearly two million foreign tourists a year, we are grateful for their continued support during this time.
Have there been any silver linings to the pandemic for Sri Lanka?
The two-month lockdown has helped reduce the death toll from clashes between elephants and humans. Conservationists have estimated that the number of elephant deaths, from human-elephant conflicts, has decreased by 40% during the lockdown.
Additionally, the air pollution in Sri Lanka’s urban areas decreased by up to 75%, while plastic pollution and other forms of marine pollution decreased by up to 40% along the island’s coastline.
Have your hotels been involved in any eco initiatives or community projects?
We’ve been expanding on our sustainability goals and are currently working towards receiving the globally recognised ‘Travelife’ sustainability accreditation – it’s about developing our environmental policy, human rights and child protection policies and green purchasing policy.
We’re also the lead sponsor of the ‘Volunteers to Assist Children with Disabilities’ (VACD) centre opening in the hill country town of Welimada in early 2021. As we have three established hotels in the tea hills, we felt it was the right time to commit more funds, time and energy into helping children with disabilities to enjoy a better education and brighter future.
We have also teamed up with the Tea Leaf Trust – an NGO founded in 2007 to empower impoverished young people from the tea estates, in the prospect of employing them at our hotels and bungalows, as well as improving gender empowerment in the local communities.
Give us a sentence to tell us why we should put Sri Lanka on our wish list for 2021
It’s simple. Few places in the world can offer travellers such a remarkable combination of stunning landscapes, pristine beaches, incredible wildlife, captivating cultural heritage sites and unique experiences all within a compact, little island.
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Marteyne van Well, Six Senses
Marteyne van Well, General Manager, Six Senses, Laamu
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