ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s new and somewhat controversial State Minister of Tourism Diana Gamage is determined to forge ahead with her plans to revitalise Colombo’s largely barren nightlife, in a bid to entice tourists and encourage spending.
Speaking to EconomyNext, Gamage said Sri Lanka, though rich in cultural attractions to keep foreigners occupied during daytime, cannot match the vibrant nightlife offered by its competitors.
Unlike countries like Singapore and Thailand, known for their street stalls and night time entertainment, Sri Lanka gives visitors and locals alike limited options in terms of things to do after dark, she said.
“If [tourists] want to go shopping, there’s nothing open at night. They want to enjoy dancing, singing, listening to music, drinking, eating…what have we got in this country? Sri Lanka is a dead island at night,” said Gamage.
The lack of entertainment options has resulted in an outflow of foreign currency, she claimed, as locals with disposable income also look towards foreign destinations to spend their money at.
“Sri Lankans, too, collect their money, convert it to dollars and go to Malaysia, Singapore, or Dubai,” she said.
“They’re giving our money out to the other countries. Why? Because there’s nothing for them to enjoy in Sri Lanka.”
Gamage said that her critics, who often pigeonhole nightlife into a culture of casinos and prostitutes, cannot see the bigger picture. Her vision has more to do with giving people an outlet to enjoy and spend, in order to keep the economy running, she said.
“There should be food stalls…shopping…music that people can enjoy.”
The legislator, originally from the main opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB), also said that culture and religion should be kept separate from development.
“We should have that history, we should have our culture. But that doesn’t mean you have to stop there and stop the development of a country.
“Every time this country has tried to develop in some way, people have brought this religion and culture issue forward…today, it has brought us to bankruptcy,” she said.
As part of her plans to keep tourists engaged while 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 claims.
“Sometimes people just want to go and have a beer, and they can’t. We should be able to sell beer and wine in this country.”
Small restaurants in Sri Lanka often find it easier to bribe local authorities and sell alcohol on the sly, as beer licences are somewhat expensive, and constantly turning away tourists is bad for business. Gamage believes that the licences should be more accessible to small business owners.
Gamage believes that it is not too late to tap into the economic benefits of having a fully fledged nightlife culture, and that people are too narrow-minded to see it.
“I don’t know why people cannot see the opportunities we are losing. You know, we call Sri Lanka a paradise. But what paradise is shut at 10 o’clock in the night?” (Colombo/Sep30/2022)