When local guests begin frequenting restaurants and bars in hotels after they open in Colombo following a near 2-month curfew and lockdown, they are bound to miss the ever-popular buffets. This is one of the changes that will be implemented when hotels start opening out for banquets, weddings and other events, with the number of [...]

Business Times

No more buffets


When local guests begin frequenting restaurants and bars in hotels after they open in Colombo following a near 2-month curfew and lockdown, they are bound to miss the ever-popular buffets.

This is one of the changes that will be implemented when hotels start opening out for banquets, weddings and other events, with the number of guests restricted to 100 or below. At one hotel, a wedding has been booked for 25 guests – literally just the two extended families of the couple.

No more buffets? Opps……that’s something that most people are bound to miss as hotels resort to social distancing and other health and safety guidelines prescribed by the health authorities.

Hotels and restaurants approved by Sri Lanka Tourism were allowed to open this week, while other unregistered restaurants are yet to get the green-light. However, takeaways from such restaurants are permitted without any sit-in meals.

Some hotels in the city and outside are accepting bookings for accommodation, essentially from locals, while others are only opening service areas like restaurants and bars for outside clients.

While my thoughts were on the opening of hotels and restaurants, I was distracted by the conversation under the margosa tree. The trio had gathered for the usual Thursday morning chat and was discussing the lifting of the curfew in Colombo.

Bus adu kota, minissu wedata yanne kohomada (How can people go to work when there are few buses on the road)?” asked Kussi Amma Sera. “Bus thibunath, seat ganata thama minisunwa geniyanne (Even though there are buses, passengers are only taken according to the number of seats),” said Serapina.

Bus nethi-hinda minissu godak wedata yanne nethuwa, apahu gedara giya (I was told that many people went back home as there were no buses),” noted Mabel Rasthiyadu.

Rajaya vadipura bus danna avashyai, nethnam meka barapathala prashnayak wenawa (The government needs to use more buses, otherwise this will become a serious problem),” added Kussi Amma Sera.

As I listened to their conversation and the travails of bus commuters, the phone rang. It was my jolly-mood economist friend, Sammiya (short for Samson), on the line.

“Hello Sammiya, what’s cooking?” I asked. “Well, interestingly, I went to a hotel restaurant and they were observing social distancing rules. The buffet meal is not on the menu anymore,” he said.

“Yes, that’s something many Sri Lankans will miss,” I replied lightly, adding that hotels will make many changes from the earlier normal.

While Sri Lanka Tourism is preparing new guidelines on health and safety precautions recommended by health authorities, hotels are already putting in place their own precautions aimed at maintaining the best health and safety standards.

In future, rather than seeking to holiday in the best 4-star or 5-star categories, the focus would be on hotels that have the best health and safety standards. Star-class properties won’t matter anymore, its trust and faith in a hotel or resort that has the best safety standards that would be the yardstick of the quality of a hotel.

Here are some of the changes envisaged when hotels open fully for local and foreign travellers:

  •   Set meals will be the order of the day, with buffet spreads no more on the table.
  •   Temperatures checked before entering a hotel will be a requirement with handwashing and sanitisers at hand. Health experts have opposed the installation of disinfection chambers, already in place outside some clothes stores, as it is harmful to human health.
  •   Weddings will be restricted to a maximum of 100 guests, while in smaller function rooms, the number would be fewer. No kissing of the bride is permitted, according to the health guidelines.
  • At restaurants and bars, social distancing rules are to be maintained, with waiters and stewards wearing face masks and/or other required COVID-19 paraphernalia.
  •   Rooms occupied by guests would be subject to disinfection standards after they depart and before new guests check in.

Some of the standards seen as being maintained in overseas hotels, according to the travel magazine TTG Asia, are:

  •   There will be a new structure around dining and social functions.
  •   Buffet meals will give way to served set meals.
  •   Coffee breaks and cocktail events would have to adhere to strict social distancing measures.
  •   Larger spaces will be used for smaller events to ensure the appropriate distance between tables.
  •  Coffee breaks at events would probably be with guests being shielded or served from behind a Plexiglass screen by a certified kitchen team to reduce contamination.
  •   There’ll be markings on the floor to help conference delegates adhere to social distancing.
  •   Staggered break times would emerge for smaller groups or more use of outdoor space to provide the opportunity for fresh air.
  •   Cocktail events will likely see stricter handling of food items with less sharing of plates and more individually-served items.
  •   Hotels are expected to encourage gatherings with fewer people.

With the green-light being given to open the Bandaranaike International Airport, Katunayake, from August 1 onwards, the first group of tourists is most likely to be Sri Lankan expatriates visiting family and friends.

Industry officials said that foreign tourist arrivals are unlikely for the next three to six months unless quarantine requirements (14 days in quarantine) are lifted for those arriving from abroad.

Veteran hotelier Hiran Cooray had an interesting suggestion. Speaking to the Business Times last week, he said: “If we get into certain bilateral agreements with countries that have managed this pandemic well, Sri Lanka could attract citizens from places like Australia, New Zealand, Vietnam and South Korea. These are not countries from which Sri Lanka has been generating much tourist traffic and if both countries give the all-clear signal for travel, that could generate some tourist traffic – without the quarantine restrictions.”

All hotel chains in Sri Lanka are expecting to report severe losses for the next year in the absence of any tourists or just a few, which would also cause a huge dent in the country’s foreign exchange earnings. While hotels might get a share of local tourist traffic, that too mostly during weekends and long weekends, this would still be revenue in local currency and unlikely to fill the hole in foreign exchange.

Tourism which had been battered by the near 30-year war but rapidly recovered to over 2 million arrivals in 2018, was dealt another blow by the Easter Sunday 2019 attacks on three hotels and three churches. As a result of this crisis, though tourism tended to pick up in the fourth quarter of the year, tourist arrivals declined by 18 per cent (year-on-year) to 1,913,702 and earnings from tourism eased by 17.7 per cent to US$3,607 million in 2019.

As in the past – particularly during the war years when local travellers were largely responsible for the survival of hotels — it is the local clientele that would keep the hotels afloat until tourism is restored to its former glory.

Sipping my second cup of tea brought by Kussi Amma Sera, I reflected on how quickly tourism as a sector in Sri Lanka has recovered from past tragedies though this time, it is a crisis of travelling outside borders faced by the entire world. This time, Sri Lanka’s fate lies in how fast other countries – particularly Europe which apart from the US is the epicentre of the pandemic – recover for travel to be normalised.

Share This Post


Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.