Turning the tide after the tsunami

Banker wins presidential award for promoting tourism through documentaries on Sri Lanka
By Gamini Fernando

Terrorism and negative travel advice affected the tourism industry in Sri Lanka to a great extent in the past three decades. The tsunami of December 2004, brought the entire tourism industry to a standstill. More than promoting tourism almost all stakeholders in the industry were busy repairing and refurbishing their damaged properties and looking for grants and soft loans from financial institutions and the government to get back to business.

Ralph Gunawardena with his award

The government launched the “Rebuilding Sri Lanka” programme shortly after and this was when banker Ralph Gunawardena decided to do his bit. The idea of helping the tourism industry came to his mind as tourism is the fourth largest foreign exchange earner in the country and the livelihood of nearly a million people was affected directly and indirectly as a result of the tsunami.

Having travelled extensively in Sri Lanka Ralph had enough information and material to prepare a comprehensive documentary. Using his own resources and writing the script on his own as a first step, he later contacted Arun Dias Bandaranaike to do the narration and the Rupavahini Corporation for the production. Chandana Seneviratna was assigned by Rupavahini to do the documentary and in six short months, “Sri Lanka – The Pearl of the Indian Ocean” was completed.
Ralph went on to get 1,500 copies of this DVD done in Singapore, at his own expense, even designing the DVD cover and a brochure to be given with every copy free of charge.

There was no news conference or launch of the DVD due to lack of funds, but Ralph having collected information about the foreign VIPs who came to Sri Lanka to support the country after the tsunami sent them each a copy of his DVD along with a letter informing them that Sri Lanka can be re-built on tourism alone, provided that foreign countries support Sri Lanka by encouraging their citizens to visit as tourists.

British Members of Parliament who had visited Sri Lanka after the tsunami, even former US President Bill Clinton received the DVD, the latter acknowledging Ralph’s letter. Ralph says that he may have sent nearly 300 copies to foreign VIPs and another 400 to Sri Lankans living abroad at his own expense, requesting them to promote Sri Lanka in their own countries.

Impressed by his work, the Tourist Board asked him to do another documentary.
Ralph’s second effort – “Sri Lanka – A Land Like No Other”, was the Tourist Board’s official documentary for nearly 2½ years. He has supplied nearly 4,500 copies to the Tourist Board for its official use and sent copies to Britain, France, Germany, Netherlands, Italy, Canada, America, Australia, Middle East, Japan, India etc.

The crowning moment came when his second documentary, – “Sri Lanka – A Land Like No Other” was telecast live by Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation to all SAARC countries just before the inauguration of the SAARC Summit in Colombo in August 2009.

Though few people knew of his work and he sought no publicity, recognition of his efforts these past years came when on June 15, Ralph was announced as the winner for Tourism Promotion, Marketing and Communication, at the Presidential Awards ceremony. It was a time for realization that the non-players (those not in the tourism business) can also contribute to the promotion of tourism in Sri Lanka.

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