- Tourism Promo
Time, around 2.25 PM, date, date: Tuesday (December 14) place, army checkpoint near Slave Island Railway Station.
Some elderly tourists, seemingly Westerners, were clicking away with their cameras at a soldier on duty at that checkpoint. Hardly a few minutes passed, when another soldier, seemingly a senior, berated him for allowing the foreigners to take his picture, and ordered the visitors to delete those pictures, which appeared to have had been taken from digital cameras.
The faces of those foreigners appeared to have had turned red, flushed with embarrassment, at the senior soldier’s orders, whilst acceding to the same without protest, deleting the pictures under the soldier’s watchful eye, like common criminals, for all and sundry to see.
The question is whether this incident was warranted?
If pictures of soldiers at the Slave-Island checkpoint cannot be taken, could not they have had been first debriefed not to allow pictures of themselves taken?
Or, in the alternative, could not the army have had placed a signboard there, saying that no pictures could be taken? After all such signages are prominently displayed in and around the Presidential Secretariat?
This unpleasant situation took place at a time when President Mahinda Rajapaksa has declared next year, which is just two weeks away, as “Visit Sri Lanka” year as a boost to tourism.
But when such unpleasantries, as that which this reporter witnessed on Tuesday allowed being allowed to occur, it does not help such a campaign.
Better if Rajapaksa and his Government, without making grandeur statements such as “Visit Sri Lanka,” first start from the basics, by inculcating the importance of being courteous to foreigners, to the service personnel and police, who are still found in their numbers, armed or otherwise, in and around Colombo, despite the war having had ended 19 months ago, giving the apparent impression that Sri Lanka is a police state and not a democracy.
This reporter remembers, that during the Sirima Bandaranaike Government of 1970-77, where Rajapaksa was an MP, signages appearing in various parts of the city, saying, “Welcome a tourist, a smile is worth a thousand words.”
That slogan was aimed at the citizens of this country then, to be courteous to tourists, to facilitate inflows to a cash starved regime.
Considering the changes that have had taken place some 30 + years later, in the very demography of the city since, with hundreds, if not thousands of security personnel and police stationed in various parts of Colombo, it may be prudent to invest both time and money in teaching them the importance of being polite to tourists.
Sri Lankans, whether they be civilians or in the armed forces and in the police, by nature are warm and hospitable, so, such training might not cost the Government that much.
Inculcating such manners may well go a long way in the Government’s tourism promotional drive.