No, helping the Sri Lankan economy is not why you need to holiday in Sri Lanka. It is not your problem.
Sri Lanka should be your travel destination of choice because it is right now the dream of every tourist: a paradise that is not crowded with other tourists.
On Instagram, companies are selling softwares to help you remove the crowds from your vacation photos. All you have to do is visit Sri Lanka and you won’t need those softwares. Those Insta reels and TikTok videos that make nature look exotic with only you in them — Sri Lanka is the easiest place to make those videos this winter.
If you detest the Insta video makers, you still have the least density of such tourists in Sri Lanka, at least for now.
And yes, there is enough petrol to take you anywhere in the island country. As a tourist with forex power you won’t face any inconvenience, except perhaps not being able to buy some imported goods like shoes and cosmetics.
But you are not going to Sri Lanka to buy a pair of Nike shoes.
If you are a tourist in Sri Lanka today, you are met with a mix of surprise and gratitude. Surprise, because they know tourists are avoiding Sri Lanka right now. Gratitude, because they know they need you and your foreign exchange. Even the conductor of the bus was mentioning the word ‘dollars’ with ‘tourist’ in his Sinhalese sentences.
Indians ‘most welcome’
This is especially true if you are Indian. Sri Lanka has been economically better off, cleaner, less polluted, more modern, more Anglicised, with better human development indicators across the board. Sri Lanka has imagined itself above the South Asian league, and has wanted to be seen in the league of Singapore and Dubai.
All that came crashing down this year with a hard default of foreign debt. Even the International Monetary Fund hasn’t yet given Sri Lanka any aid. It is aid from India that is keeping the country afloat. No country has come remotely close to the Indian aid of $4 billion dollars so far.
The man on the street realises what India has kept them afloat. That’s why even the tuk-tuk driver tells you Sri Lankans and Indians are brothers.
More direct international flights to Sri Lanka are coming up every month, meaning that the touristy lanes of Galle Fort are going to feel a little less empty every month. For now, Sri Lanka’s tourist bookings are going for an incredible discount.
This winter, it may be a good idea to ditch Bali, Lankawai, Phuket, Saigon or Goa. If you are looking for a warm, tropical place by the sea, Sri Lanka is the right place to go to.
If you are the sort of person who hates swathes of tourists taking over a place, this winter is the right time to go to Sri Lanka.
A variety of destinations
Sri Lanka packs in a good variety of places for an island. You could go snorkelling in the Indian Ocean or climb the peaks in Ella, a hill station. You could go see Buddhist sites in the sacred city of Kandy, a wildlife safari in Yala or the Sigiriya rock fortress that Sri Lankans consider the eighth wonder of the world.
All of these sites become prettier if you take the train. The world’s most beautiful train journeys are in Sri Lanka. If you are going to Ella, the train will stop at the Nine Arches Bridge. The site is itself a tourist spot that people come to visit and take photos. How many train stations can you say that about?
In Ella we climbed rocky steps to reach the cave where Ravana hid Sita, according to Hindu beliefs. We did this on the eve of Diwali!
Sri Lankans say it with a smile
In Galle, walking around the Galle Fort walls and seeing the Indian Ocean in all its glory, the coral reefs stopping the waves amid a beautiful sunset, you tend to wonder: why didn’t I come here before?
Amid the King Coconuts and tiger prawns, the hoppers and Sri Lankan curries, Sri Lanka is hard to not like. The servers in restaurants will strike conversation with you and tell you not of an economic but a political crisis.
Amid all the gloom, they never lose their smile. As the tuk-tuk drivers overcharge you, they’re still so cheap you won’t believe this is a country with a 66% inflation rate.
The people are nice and easy-going, making Sri Lanka safe for tourists even amid a historic economic crisis.
It is not just the tourism industry but the country as a whole that understands the value of foreign exchange tourists bring at a time when the country doesn’t have enough dollars to import fuel. For this reason they treat you very well. They want you to return home and encourage others to visit Sri Lanka.
This winter, that may be a great idea.
Shivam Vij is a journalist and political commentator based in New Delhi. He tweets as @DilliDurAst, the handle means ‘Delhi is still far’