In Sri Lanka, hospitality has many facets. On the surface, websites on the pearl of the Indian ocean tend to describe the people of Sri Lanka as possessing a warm and friendly nature reflected in persistent smiling faces and eagerness to help those unfamiliar with aspects of local life (see for example the websites of Sri Lanka embassies). Sri Lankans are described as very hospitable taking pride in inviting people to their homes. The private sector plays an important role in defining the nation’s identity by hospitality and its position as one of the world’s most sought after and exclusive tourist destinations.
The branding of Sri Lanka also includes very positive statements about the nation’s identity as multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural society. Hospitality is a key standpoint to present the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka as a model of inclusiveness where multiplicity is not an obstacle to peaceful and enjoyable encounters.
This presentation of the Island is in sharp contrast with a deeper reality of hostility, violent rejection, incompatibilities that has been and still is the major characteristic of Sri Lankan society. Thirty years of civil war, a renewed effort to define true Sri Lanka as Sinhalese and Buddhist are not events without deep significance. In this context, hospitality can be seen as a means to define one’s own identity as better than another, one ethnic or religious identity as superior to another one: “we Tamil are better than the Sinhalese because we are more hospitable (and vice-versa), we Hindus are better than the Muslims because we invite you in our homes”.
And there is even a deeper level, the level of inhospitableness. Due to the development of the tourist industry in Sri Lanka, hospitality has become a commodity. In the name of economic prosperity, the society is experiencing a perpetual depletion of nature’s reserves, the destruction of rural habitat and the dislocation of traditional societies. The concentration on tourism, conflicts of interests, unauthorized construction and modifications, inappropriate behaviour of tourists, misinterpretations and poor cultural and heritage sites management, have contributed to transform the nicest parts of Sri Lanka into a very inhospitable site for its citizens. Even the city of Colombo, in the context of rapid economic development, has become a very inhospitable city for its inhabitants due to a growing recurring waste problem.
The paragraphs above, would require much deeper reflection to show with more precision that “hospitality’ is a key concept and figure for the study of contemporary Sri Lanka. For LCEJ and its Staff, hospitality is not limited to receiving guests well. It is a very thought-provoking standpoint to reflect on what is now widely agreed that the climate is changing, global resources are diminishing and biodiversity is suffering.