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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.