1. Know who to avoid
When travelling in Sri Lanka, there is a strong risk that the money you spend could help line the pockets of war criminals and human rights abusers. For more information about which companies to avoid, visit our list here.
2. Understand the supply chain
When you book a holiday it is important to understand where your money is going. If you book a package tour you will mostly deal with a tour operator (like Thomas Cook or Saga), but they in turn will use an inbound agency (like Aitken Spence or Walkers) who will deal with various hoteliers.They may also organise flights via an airline. If you are not going as part of a package you will probably deal with the hoteliers and airlines directly.
There are multiple links between all of the various operators, hoteliers, inbound agencies, and airlines operating in Sri Lanka, so even if the holiday that you are having uses only ethical hotels it can still be provided in part by companies which also provide less ethical products. While you might have minimised the amount of your money that will end up in the hands of human rights violators, you do form part of a supply chain that can often benefit these people.
It is up to you to decide where you personally want to draw the line, but one of the most powerful things that you can do is to use your power as a consumer to demand that those you are thinking of giving your money to come clean about who they work with in Sri Lanka, and what steps they are taking to make sure your money doesn’t end up in the wrong hands.
3. Use ethical alternatives
For tourism to be ethical it must not be exploitative, and must ensure that local people get a fair share of the economic benefits. Tourism Concern provides a list of ethical tour operators to help you ensure your holiday spending goes to help local communities. Experience Travel Group are the listed provider for Sri Lanka. We have produced a list of businesses to avoid on grounds of human rights concerns.
Sri Lanka has many family run hotels and local businesses that can provide you with a wonderfully authentic experience, far more personal than that offered by the big resorts. In many places there are also community projects that provide fair employment to local people. If you want to visit a tea plantation while in the hill country, try to find one that operates to Fairtrade standards, and ask about the working conditions for tea pickers.
Some packages even offer community projects and off-the-beaten-track homestays as part of their tours. But do be aware that signing up to a package means that the package operator may be making some of your ethical decisions for you.
The most important thing is to make an informed choice.
4. Get informed
- Make sure you’re aware of the current situation and what the risks for tourists are.
- Consider following Groundviews, Sri Lanka’s international award-winning citizen journalism site.
- To better understand what happened at the end of the conflict we recommend Still Counting the Dead: Survivors of Sri Lanka’s Hidden War by Frances Harrison.
- For more information about how to be an ethical tourist we recommend The Good Tourist by Lucy Popescu.
Have a look at our bookshop:
One of the main reasons that we do not advocate a boycott of tourism to Sri Lanka is that that would further contribute to the isolation of the Sri Lankan population, and harm the livelihoods of innocent local people. However tourism cannot have this positive impact if tourists remain aloof from the local population.
The most powerful thing you can do as a tourist to Sri Lanka is to just talk to people about their situation. Ask them how they feel about the war, about the former President, about the media, or about corruption.
This has to be done with a certain degree of care: your role here is not to judge or to educate – Sri Lankans know far more about their situation than you do – but to listen and share information and so combat the Sri Lankan Government’s isolation of its people. You need to be conscious of the safety and security of local people. You need, for example, to be careful about where you choose to ask people sensitive questions – people might get into trouble if soldiers or policemen overhear them bad-mouthing the Army.
There should be little risk to you – the Government of Sri Lanka does not want to risk its carefully maintained façade of respectability by causing problems for foreigners.
And if you do make friends you can help them by offering to bring in material that it may be hard for Sri Lankans to get hold of – such as books and articles that are critical of the Government. Purchasing relevant books and DVDs through our store will directly help our campaign, but there are also many free resources available. As well as articles about Sri Lanka,short introductions to nonviolent resistance such as There Are Realistic Alternatives or 198 Methods of Nonviolent Action by Gene Sharp, may prove useful.
Finally, some organisations sometimes offer homestays with human rights defenders, which can allow you a way to see what the country is really like, as well as providing them with a degree of protection. It’s not for everyone, but if you are interested get in touch with us.