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The Tuk Tuk Project! A taxi service through the community at Jetwing Era Beach

May 17, 2012 2:31:49 PM - www.ft.lk

The tuk tuk. Long a symbol of Asian countries, in Sri Lanka the trishaw, or tuk tuk as it is known, is an all purpose vehicle. Reliable, easy to operate and generally an inexpensive method of travel, many visitors to the sunny shores of our island never pass on an opportunity to experience a ride in one… However, there is a growing fear, one that promotes trishaw drivers as greedy, exploitative, and ruthless.

Jetwing Hotels thinks different: What if visitors to Sri Lanka were provided transport on tours by residents of the area, who are professional, courteous and knowledgeable?
On 14 May, it was indeed smiles all around, with the anticipation of being a part of something totally new and the feeling of contribution towards society prevailing. At Jetwing Era Beach, Thalpe, more than 10 trishaw drivers residing in the area came together to join an initiative that takes the essence of what a trishaw means; adds in potential through expertise and knowledge; and creates a livelihood. Through this program, Jetwing aims to uplift communities, promote responsible tourism, and foster relationships between the hospitality industry and those around it.
The Tuk Tuk Project! was first implemented at Jetwing Lighthouse in 2004, and formed with the tagline of ‘A taxi service through the community’. The initial preparation was difficult, with much animosity towards the hotel as well as towards each other, with family feuds and grudges dominating. With time, as well as interactive training sessions and a clear vision as to what can be accomplished, 40 drivers (the number remains the same to this day) took up the challenge and are now providing an unmatched service to visitors from both near and far.
“I have waited for this, an organisation, a person, someone, to push this idea through to the rest of the drivers here,” said Hemachandra (45). Hemachandra has been driving his trishaw for the past 18 years, and is a resident of Thalpe. He has picked up languages over the years, apart from Sinhalese he also understands and speaks German and English, which according to him he has tried to pass on to the others. “They will never accept when one person shows them how to be better, or look to the future. It is the mentality of the young; where only today matters and tomorrow is far away. We cannot do that anymore, and I thank Jetwing for committing to something that I have tried for over the years” he continued.
Speaking at the event Jetwing Lighthouse General Manager Robert Claesson said, “This is not for Jetwing that we are asking you to do this, we have no financial benefit from it. This area, as well as all of you drivers here today whether young or old, have so much potential to grow and prosper. We will give you the tools you need, the knowledge as well as the discipline. All we ask in return is to be what Sri Lankans are famed for around the world: hospitality.”
The program will take place over the next 12 weeks, with sessions being held every Saturday at Jetwing Era Beach, an exclusive 8 bedroom villa which is literally a stone’s throw away from the Indian Ocean. The drivers will be subjected to intense, interactive sessions designed to educate and challenge, created by the Training and Development Department of Jetwing Hotels. Upon completion of the program, identified drivers will be awarded a certificate as well as a uniform, and be registered at the property to be notified as and when a guest requires.