Guardian angels of stranded tourists | Sunday Observer

Guardian angels of stranded tourists

A young Ukrainian family’s dream vacation in Sri Lanka almost turned into a nightmare before good samaritans came to their rescue.

It is hard to even imagine surviving in a foreign country, with money running out, no loved ones around to help and no way of returning home, during a pandemic.

A video shared by a young Ukrainian man went viral over the week. He thanked his hosts in Weligama for helping them when they had no means of getting by during the pandemic.

“We wanted to celebrate my wife’s birthday on May 1. Our plan was to leave Sri Lanka after her birthday and travel to another destination,” 23-year-old Liubomyr (who uses only the first name) said. He came to Sri Lanka with his wife and the two-and-a-half year old daughter.

First, they were in Hikkaduwa and then left for Galle. In Galle, they got the news about the island-wide curfew and the closed BIA. Then they moved to a hotel in Mirissa. During this time his business in Ukraine closed down and he was struggling to earn an income to fund his stay in Sri Lanka.

This was when Jeevantha Shamen Perera and his business partner Dimuthu Madawala came to the struggling tourist’s rescue.

The Ukrainian family lunched at BrizoMirissa, run by Perera and Madawala, during their stay in Mirissa, and one day they told the staff there about their plight.

“Three weeks ago, one of our staff members told us about this family. The family didn’t ask for free accommodation, but the next day we asked them to move to Hotel Brizo in Weligama,” Perera who has a young child of his own said.

The family has been lodging at the hotel free since May 8, for which they are grateful.

“Due to the Covid-19 pandemic we were left alone in a foreign country and as a sign of help the hotel owners gave us the best hotel room free. When the average cost of living per month is $400-600, they are the only ones who wanted to help, not make money,” Liubomyr said.

Similar incidents were reported from across the country. In one such incident, a group of tourists staying in Ella thanked the community, a man named Dash and his employees from Chill Café who came to their aid when they had no means to get back to their home countries.

The Sunday Observer recorded another story from Mahawaskaduwa in Kalutara where a young Indian tourist was stranded since March 20.

“Ten of our staff members are working in the hotel to look after the tourist,” Director - Sales and Marketing at Lion Royal Resorts, Roshi Stronach, said.

The tourist shared a video of her stay in Kalutara where she was plucking king coconuts, playing with the staff and celebrating Vesak. She also paid tribute to the sunset at the beach. She thanked the staff at Coco Royal Beach Hotel where she is staying ‘from the bottom of her heart’.

“It is in our culture to help people in need. These acts will go a long way,” Stronach said.

She said that tourism sustains on tourists. “When tourists are in need we have to help them,” she added.

The Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) helped around 10,000 tourists who were stranded in different parts of the country. They provided free transport to the airport whenever needed and introduced a hotline for the tourists.

Sri Lanka Tourism Chairperson Kimarli Fernando said Sri Lanka has a lot more to offer in addition to being hospitable.

She also agreed that there were incidents where communities showed ‘resistance’ towards tourists. In some of these cases frightened villagers rejected tourists fearing the spread of Covid-19.

“We earn from tourists. The tourism industry is here because guests come from around the world. We have to help them when they need us,” Perera said.