By Dulya de Silva
ECONOMYNEXT –Sri Lanka’s new and somewhat controversial Minister of State for Tourism, Diana Gamage, is determined to press ahead with her plans to revitalize Colombo’s largely barren nightlife in a bid to attract tourists and encourage spending.
Speaking to EconomyNext, Gamage said Sri Lanka, while rich in cultural attractions to keep foreigners busy during the day, cannot compete with the vibrant nightlife offered by its competitors. Unlike countries like Singapore and Thailand, known for their street stalls and nighttime entertainment, Sri Lanka offers visitors and locals limited options in terms of things to do after dark, he said. she declared.
“Whether [tourists] want to go shopping, there is nothing open at night. They want to enjoy dancing, singing, listening to music, drinking, eating… what do we have in this country? Sri Lanka is a dead island at night,” Gamage said. The lack of entertainment options has led to an outflow of foreign currency, she said, as locals with disposable income also look to foreign destinations to spend their money.
“Sri Lankans too get their money back, convert it to dollars and go to Malaysia, Singapore or Dubai,” she said.
“They give our money to other countries. Why? Because they have nothing to appreciate in Sri Lanka.
Gamage said his critics, who often categorize the nightlife as a culture of casinos and prostitutes, cannot see the big picture. Her vision has more to do with giving people an outlet to enjoy and spend, to keep the economy going, she said.
“There should be food stalls…stores…music that people can enjoy.”
The lawmaker, from the main opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB), also said culture and religion should be separated from development.
“We should have this history, we should have our culture. But that does not mean that we have to stop there and stop the development of a country.
“Every time this country has tried to develop in one way or another, people have brought forward this religious and cultural issue…today it has bankrupted us,” he said. she stated. As part of its plans to keep tourists engaged in the country, Gamage is also on a mission to change Sri Lanka’s attitude towards alcohol. The country’s current laws are too restrictive, she says.
“Sometimes people just want to go for a beer, and they can’t. We should be able to sell beer and wine in this country.
Smaller restaurants in Sri Lanka often have an easier time bribing local authorities and selling alcohol on the sly, as beer licenses are somewhat expensive and the constant refusal of tourists is bad for business. Gamage believes licensing should be more accessible to small business owners. Gamage believes it’s not too late to harness the economic benefits of a full-fledged nightlife culture and people are too narrow-minded to see it.
“I don’t know why people don’t see the opportunities we are losing. You know, we call Sri Lanka a paradise. But what paradise is closed at 10 o’clock in the evening?