The political turmoil in Sri Lanka in the first half of 2022 compounded the challenges faced by the country in terms of supply of necessities and the cost of living post-pandemic and with the impact of the war in Ukraine. The absence of tourism during COVID19 caused considerable hardship to the communities dependent on this essential revenue and the slow recovery of tourism faltered and stopped with protests against the leadership of Sri Lanka forcing most governments to ban travel to the destination. Tourism is of critical importance to Sri Lanka and provides significant employment and this supports innumerable people and families. All are challenged by the situation and despite more stability in Colombo there will be a slow road to recovery and many dependent on tourism are desperately pivoting into labouring and working the land to make a meagre living and feed their families.
One such community of tourism-dependent Sri Lankans are the self-employed jeep drivers of the national parks, which are popular destinations for tourists visiting the country. These drivers don’t own the vehicles, they are simply employed to drive and guide the overseas visitors to maximise on the quality of their tourism experience in the parks, seeing wildlife, the scenery and rural Sri Lanka. On a good day a driver would typically earn £6 or £7 from two or three drives into the parks. When no tourists come there is no income, nor is there any welfare state support. Survival for the drivers and their families has depended on finding other work, if that can be found, or the generosity of others. There is not starvation but there is deprivation, poor nutrition and an absence of perceived luxuries like new shoes for the children and so forth.
Working with our amazing local partner, Sanjaya of Antiquity SL, we have established a hardship fund and worked in Habarana and Udawalawe to identify those drivers experiencing hardship and provided funds to help them outlast the absence of tourists and overcome this hardship. Typically the fund will help with payments of around £80 per month – which in Sri Lanka is a transformational amount of money for a driver and family in need that eases the hardship being experienced.
We know that when tourism returns in force these drivers and their families earn a livelihood from the tourism force for good that our industry creates. In the meantime the drivers need our help and we need yours.