Brown and Out in Hotel Land - Sri Lanka
Brown and Out in Hotel Land : by Da Chunk

Itís been more than fifty years since the last colonial
invaders left Sri Lanka and toddled back to their home
shores to leave us in peace. Fifty years in which to regain our pride as a nation , as an independent and sovereign country with cultures and traditions to be proud of. But it doesnít seem long enough to let us forget our old servility
towards the foreigner. We have the reputation of being a
hospitable country , full of welcoming smiles and other
signs of friendship. But how wide the smile is seems to
depend on the color of your skin.....and whether or not
youíre from Sri Lanka.

There has long been an indigenous type of apartheid
practiced amongst the hospitality industry in this
country. Not a day goes by without a Letter to the Editor from some enraged local , dumbfounded by the discrimination he or she has encountered at a Sri Lankan hotel. There are as many Sri Lankans as foreigners who want to explore this marvelous land, but sometimes the remnants of our post-colonial hangover kicks in . There's automatic genuflection for any tourist from abroad, but general disdain if you are from here.

I myself have my own story to relate. I was once
planning on spending the day at a hotel down south with
some friends , some of them white, some of them Asian. One of the Sri Lankans happened to have a British name , and having been educated all of his life in that country, spoke
with a British accent. He phoned the hotel and booked a
room for us with no problems...but on arrival we were
told by a bland faced front desk manager that the hotel
was full. After much loud haranguing to no avail ,we
barged in and started lounging around a pool. A pool ,
that I might add, wasnít very full at all.

Other friends and colleagues of mine have reported much
the same thing.They have been stone faced security men
who denied them entry to restaurants and clubs down
south . The reason? "Admission restricted to members
only. "How does one become a member then? Itís usually
not worth arguing about. When I visited South Africa a
couple of years back , I noticed signs above restaurants
that said "Right of Admission Reserved". This was just
before the elections when Mandela came to power, and I
felt they must have been toned down a great deal from
the earlier "Whites Only" signs. Still the message was
polite. But in my own country, I have heard tales of
clubs with large signs outside that say "No Locals
Allowed". Unbelievable. What happens when you challenge
this? Do they bring out the sjamboks?

It especially rankles when tourism to this country drops
due to terrorist activity that dissuades sunseekers from
flying here. It is then that you see the hotels begin to
kow-tow to locals , with open arms and broad grins,
saying come! special rates! special packages! A telling
point is the way that the hotels drop those famous
Sunday buffet packages during the season, only to see
them spring up again after March when arrivals drop. I
am especially reminded of one hotel that didnít so much
as deign to dip its toe in local media when the going
was good , but began to splurge on television
commercials once arrivals dropped last year. And if you
want another illustration of that post-colonial
hangover,the television commercials for that hotel down
South did not have one single Sri Lankan face in
it.Purely foreigners.

Now don't get me wrong. I have nothing whatsoever
against tourists from any part of the world. They enjoy
themselves, we earn foreign exchange; the local people
get jobs and the tourists get tans. Itís a great system.
But for some obscure reason, some hotels take it upon
themselves to try and segregate the locals from the
foreign guests as if we carried some sort of
stigma.Whatís the matter, afraid our brown skins will
dirty the hotel pool?

So how do you fight this apartheid system ? Make a fuss.
Make a hell of a big fuss. Kick up a loud row in the
lobby. Complain to the manager. Complain to the chain
that owns the group. Write to the papers. Hell, file a
case of discrimination in the courts. If this was
America, thereíd be cases filed so fast that you could
hear the tramp of lawyers running to court, all the way
from India. I donít mind being treated like a tourist in
my own land. But donít treat me like shit just because
I'm brown.