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Sam's contribution to tourism invaluable

The memoir 'Lifetime in Tourism' was authored by H. M. S. Samaranayake (whom we intimately call Sam) who had been in the service of tourism for over a period of more than four decades; firstly as an official of the Ceylon Tourist Board for 21 years, soon after it was established in 1966, and ending up as its Director General; second as an international civil servant for two years at the UNWTO Secretariat in Madrid; third as a Core International Consultant to a South Pacific Regional Tourism Development Project funded by the European Union, for three years; fourth as the Chairman of the Sri Lanka Tourist Board for six years and finally as a freelance Tourism Consultant for ten years.


H. M. S. Samaranayake

Sam entered the University of Peradeniya from Rahula College, Matara. In the University, he read for a Special Degree in Economics with Specialisation in Statistics, his two favourite disciplines. This explains the reasons for his gradual rise from the position of Statistician of the nascent Tourist Board in 1966, to the position of Director General in early 1980s and then to the position of its Chairman in the latter half of 1990s.

Sam was a contemporary of both Dr. Sarath Amunugama and me at the Peradeniya University and our camaraderie continued even after we passed out of the University and entered the public service. So was Dharmasiri Senanayake, who became the Chairman of the Tourist Board in 1970 under the Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike Government and later as the Minister of Media, Tourism and Civil Aviation in 1994, under the President Chandrika Kumaratunga Government.

Statistician

In a strange coincidence of events, Sam was the Statistician of the Tourist Board when Dharmasiri was appointed its Chairman, and after nearly fifteen years Sam was appointed Chairman of the Tourist Board when Dharmasiri became a Minister in 1994. Similarly, when Dr. Sarath Amunugama was appointed Secretary to the Ministry of (State) Tourism under Minister Anandatissa De Alwis, Sam was the Deputy Director General of the Board. He was eventually promoted Director General of Tourism.

Sam, in his memoir, recounts that the Ceylon Tourist Board was the brain-child of J. R. Jayewardene, Minister of State under the Dudley Senanayake Government formed in 1965, in the same way as the Ceylon Hotel School was the brain-child of Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike Government that preceded the Dudley Senanayake Government.

During this period, the country was facing severe economic problems.

Minister Jayewardene, being the Deputy Leader of that government, had the vision and the courage to introduce modern tourism on an organised basis, to find quick solutions to these pressing economic problems, which the previous governments were shy to do, because of the prevailing nationalist movements in the country, despite the fact that world tourism was expanding rapidly in the 1950s and 1960s and most developing countries were benefiting from that development by opening their countries to this new phenomenon.

He set up the necessary institutional and legal framework by introducing three important pieces of legislation in Parliament, (1) Ceylon Tourist Board Act No 10 of May 1966, (2) Ceylon Hotels Corporation Act of May 1966 and (3) Tourist Development Act No. 14 of 1968.

Ceylon Tourist Board

Thus the Ceylon Tourist Board, consisting of seven Board Members, came into being in May 1966 with A. C. H. De Soysa (formerly of CCS) as its first Chairman. The other Board Members were Ralf Deraniyagala (a former Clerk to the House of Representatives), H. W. Jayewardene (QC), Upali Senanayake (a wildlife expert), Chandra Cooray, Deputy Secretary to the Treasury (representing the Ministry of Finance) and P. Padmanathan, Commissioner (representing the Ministry of Local Government. The Author says it was a very high calibre and very committed Board and unlike in these days, the Board members were very often seen working with the officials after normal office hours.

However, the author says that tourism in the modern sense of the word was very new to Ceylon at that time. When the international class hotels were being built in Colombo and outstation areas and the foreign tourists were coming in large numbers from the developed countries of the west, there were fears expressed by several segments of the society, namely the Buddhist clergy, academics and professionals, economists and sociologists, the administrators and even the Marxist opposition, about the possible adverse consequences of large scale influx of tourists, on the culture and the traditional society and also the physical environment of the country.

Sociologists complain

The economists questioned the so-called economic benefits accruing to the country while the sociologists were complaining about the distortion in salary structures introduced as a result of paying higher salaries to the butlers, while the professionals were paid very much less.

However, the author says that the government was not unmindful about these possibilities. Hence the reason for the enactment of the Tourist Development Act which provided for planned, regulated and controlled development of tourism.

The Board initiated tourism development by commissioning a Hawaii-based consortium of Tourism Consultants to prepare a ten Year Tourism Development Plan, covering the period 1967 to 1976.

Despite all these precautions taken by the government, the criticisms had started mounting and they were echoed even in the hallowed precincts of the Parliament. Minister Jayewardene was so apprehensive about these criticisms that he was compelled to declare "Five hundred thousand tourists and no more".

But ironically, nobody, including the clergy, academics and professionals speaks ill of tourism today and everybody accepts tourism as a viable development option for the country. In fact last year we witnessed one million tourist arrivals and one billion US$ in foreign exchange earnings to the country.

Three contributions

Now, let me get back to the man in question that is the author, Sam. After reading his book, I could identify three major contributions of a lasting nature that Sam had made to Sri Lankan tourism.

The first was the introduction of a comprehensive system of management information, whilst being the statistician of the Board, in its early stages. The annual statistical reports on Tourism that he initiated when he was the Statistician are still being continued, almost by using the same format. That speaks tons for a technocrat of the highest order.

The second was the action that he had initiated when he was the Director General of the Board in the 1980s, to build a permanent abode for the Tourist Board. After the Tourist Board and the Hotel School were dislodged from the Colombo Club buildings at Galle Face Centre Road in late 1970s to make way for the Taj Samudra Hotel, both institutions were like vagabonds, operating from several rented premises in various parts of Colombo.

He had initiated action with the Government Agent, Colombo, to get the one-acre block of land at No 80 Stuart Place, Colombo 3, vested with the Tourist Board and also with the Treasury to get the release of Rs 10 million depreciation investment funds lying to the credit of the Board, to build a permanent abode for the Tourist Board. He had taken a premature retirement from the Tourist Board to join the WTO Secretariat in Madrid in early 1988, after participating in the ceremony held to cut the first sod of soil, along with his Chairman H.P. Siriwardene, to lay the foundation, at an auspicious time.

Ceylon Hotel School

The third was the construction of a permanent abode for the Ceylon Hotel School at the same premises, when he became the Chairman of the Board in 1994. He had already told us, in his welcome address, the agonising experiences that he had to go through in constructing this building, where we are here tonight, to provide a permanent abode for the Ceylon Hotel School. He had been able to overcome all obstacles with assistance of his schoolmates at Rahula College, Matara, Messrs Kusumsiri Balapatabendi, Secretary to President Chandrika Kumaratunga and Chandrananda De Silva, the Defense Secretary at the time and also with the blessings and active support from his Minister, Mr Dharmasiri Senanayake and his Ministry Secretary, W. P. S. Jayawardena.

I was not as lucky as Sam in public service. When I was asked to establish the second insurance company for the country, the National Insurance Corporation by my Minister, Lalith Athulathmudali, I had to negotiate with the Treasury for a prescribed capital of Rs 20 million and I got an issued capital of only one million at 15.5 percent interest. Hence my appreciation and bouquet to the Director General, Sam, since he did better than me in getting land and money at no cost.

Personal life

I think I also should say something about the personal life of Sam. He was a bachelor when he joined the Tourist Board in 1966. About one month after joining the Board, he got married to one Miss Srini de Silva, herself a statistical officer in the Department of Census and Statistics whom he had met earlier. She was the daughter of Mrs. T.U. De Silva, a close confidante of Madam Sirimavo Bandaranaike, the leader of the SLFP and the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament. The wedding was attended by the Governor General at the time, William Gopallawa and the most renowned politicians from the Opposition at the time. The wedding ceremony had been headlined in the Aththa newspaper of the day calling 'it the wedding of the year', giving a full account of the ceremonials and those who participated.

Appointment questioned

As Sam had expected, the consequences were instant. Sam's appointment to the newly set up statutory body under the UNP Government was questioned at a subsequent cabinet meeting by Minister Cyril Mathew, who was a very senior minister and a UNP trade union leader. Minister J. R. Jayewardene agreed to look into the matter. The Chairman, Mr de Soysa, being a member of the former Civil Service, was magnanimous enough to tell the Minister that the post of statistician was advertised and an interview held by a panel of Board Members including the UN advisor and that Sam was selected purely on merit; and apart from that there was no need to probe him about his political colour. The matter had ended there.

Let me come to the second travail that our good friend, Sam, ran into in this political clime - the post of Director General of the Tourist Board in 1981.

This had been done entirely on the wishes of his Minister, since he wanted to appoint the most experienced and knowledgeable tourism official as the DG to support the Chairman who was completely new to his job. As anticipated, the instant reaction to his promotion came from the same powerful Minister of the Cabinet, undoubtedly influenced by the interested parties. The Minister had asked the President at a Cabinet meeting, Sir, how was it that the Minister of State had appointed Samaranayake, the son-in-law of Mrs. T.U. de Silva, to the top post of DG in the Tourist Board.

Minister's response

The Minister's response was tacit with a counter question to the President himself. 'Sir, if it was good for you to appoint Nissanka Wijeratne, a close relative of Mrs Bandaranaike as your Minister of Education and if it was good for you to appoint Ronnie de Mel, a former SLFP member of Parliament, a strong supporter of Madam Bandaranaike, as your Minister of Finance, what was wrong in my appointing Samaranayake, the son-in-law of a supporter of Mrs. Bandaranaike as DG of the Tourist Board? He was the next most senior and experienced official in the Board to be promoted to this post". The matter had ended there and Sam continued.

Early retirement

Sam took an early retirement from the Tourist Board as Director General in January 1988, to join the United Nations/WTO Secretariat in Madrid, as an International Civil Servant.

In February 1990, he left UNWTO for a more lucrative assignment as an International Tourism Consultant.

After completing his three year assignment in the South Pacific in December 1992, he came back to Sri Lanka to engage himself in another vocation, most unlike a of a man of his profession.

Coconut planter

He became a coconut planter in a 40-acre land in Katupotha, a sprawling village with rare scenic beauty in the Kurunegala district. He says it was self rewarding, very successful and a comfortable life.

Another of Sam's achievements highlighted in the report was his contribution to bring the Chairmanship of the WTO Executive Council to Sri Lanka, with candidature of his Minister Dharmasiri Senanayake, for two consecutive terms - 1999 and 2000. The Bid for the Chairmanship of the Council was summited by him when he attended the 59th Session of the Council held in Ushuaia (Southernmost city in the world), Argentina, in December 1998, as the leader of the Sri Lanka delegation.

At that Session, Sri Lanka contested against Portugal, the incumbent Chairman, who withdrew his Bid, after Sam had made a very convincing presentation. Unfortunately, the Minister did not survive to serve his second term because of his untimely demise.

The author Sam, of course, while highlighting his achievements, also speaks of his failures.

One such project was the Image Building Campaign that he had mooted, when he was the Chairman of the Board, in order to project a positive image for the country as an attractive destination for the tourists, which was tarnished by LTTE bomb attacks and the anti Sri Lanka propaganda campaigns launched by them. He says that it was a case of too many cooks spoiling the soup.

Another of his pet projects was his attempt to set up an Arts and Cultural centre at the Old Dutch Hospital building in the Colombo Fort, to provide an 'Evening Gathering Place' for the many thousands of tourists sleeping in the hotels in the Colombo City and its environs, in association with the George Keyt Foundation.

It was designed to provide cultural entertainment on a daily basis by staging cultural and musical shows, painters and craftsmen at work, a permanent gallery of paintings and Sri Lankan food stalls.

He regrets he was not able to complete his project partly due to the premature demise of his Minister and partly due to his resignation from the Board in November 2000.

He says that with all the developments that had taken place in the City of Colombo in the recent past, the need for such an evening gathering place for the tourists staying in the city still remains unfulfilled.

On the personal and family front, he was a devoted father always looking after the educational needs of his two sons and the daughter and ensuring that they receive their education in some of the best Universities.

All of them are now married and well settled with Sam becoming a happy grandfather of two grandsons and a granddaughter, to whom his Memoir is dedicated.

Scanning through the 822 pages of this tome - A Lifetime in Tourism - I see it as a standard text for all those interested in tourism, not only those presently engaged in the tourist industry, but also the students of tourism, researchers, technocrats and even the political history of this period. Mr K. D. D. Percival, who had done the final editing of the Book, is not involved in tourism. But after reading the Book he says it is a 'Bible on tourism in Sri Lanka'. That speaks a lot about the Book.

Excerpts of the keynote speech delivered at the launch of the memoir 'Lifetime in Tourism' at the Auditorium of Sri Lanka Institute of Tourism and Hotel Management on January 23, 2013.

 

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