Millennial begpackers live off Lankan hospitality | Sunday Observer

Millennial begpackers live off Lankan hospitality

5 January, 2020

Photographs of a young male tourist clad in a t-shirt and pair of shorts made rounds on twitter this week, drawing a fair share of angry comments by irked twitter users.

These photographs reportedly taken in front of the Colombo Fort Railway Station depict the tourist seated cross-legged on the ground with a collection of wristbands laid in front of him. A cardboard placard, placed next to him, states “I’m traveling world could you support me please?? : ) )”, and another placard placed on the other side gives its Sinhala translation.

The online rage was directed at what has come to be termed as ‘white privilege’ and ‘millennial begpackers’. Tourists, mostly from European countries, are seen begging or busking in destinations across Southeast Asia. The tourists would even sell postcards, bracelets and photographs to earn money to fund their tours.

The situation has prompted several destinations to take precautionary measures. Reports shows that Thailand has introduced a regulation where the tourists are made to show 20,000 baht (around Rs. 120,213) to its immigration officials when entering the country, and Bali has started to report such begpackers to their embassies.

In Sri Lanka, a nation known for hospitality hence would lend a hand to a foreigner in need and it boils down to if the tourists can earn money during their stay here.

“They absolutely cannot do it,” said Controller General of Immigration and Emigration R M P S B Rathnayake. “If they enter the country with a tourist visa, they are not allowed to make money in Sri Lanka.”

If a tourist is caught violating visa conditions, Rathnayake said, legal action can be taken against him or that person can be deported.

However, according to tourism sources, the young man photographed near the Colombo Fort Railway Station is just one among many who feed off locals to fund their tours.

Statistics from the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) shows that as at November 30, 2019 a little over 1,672,039 tourists have visited the country, which is a drop of 19.6 percent comparing to the corresponding period in 2018. The tourist arrivals since the Easter Sunday attacks are gradually increasing. The drop of 70.8 percent in May 2019 (compared to the corresponding period in 2018) bridged to 9.5 percent in November. Seasonality also contributed to the increase.

“We, as a destination, do not gain much from them or reach the expected tourist revenue,” said senior tourism academic Dr. Mohamed Mubarak.

The academic also said that these tourists are working against UNWTO’s Sustainable Development Goals, which, among others, focus on strengthening income and livelihood of local communities.

“It is high time we start high-end (high spending) tourism,” Dr. Mubarak said.

Sri Lanka has the capacity to achieve this. Lonely Planet named the country world’s top destination in 2019; Google’s annual Year in Search revealed that internet users had much interest in locating Sri Lanka; it was also ranked first for the category of Asia’s Best Nation for Wildlife Tourism by Top 10 Asia’s premier publications; the country also topped the Sunday Times 20 best holiday destinations to travel in 2020; CNN Travel named Sri Lanka as one of the ‘20 best places to visit’ for 2020’, and Lonely Planet also recognized the country as one of the six destinations in Asia for solo female travellers.

Yet, there is a long way for the country’s tourism industry to go as begpackers seem to be the tip of the ice-berg.