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Blessed, excited, privileged

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by Zanita Careem

Lakmini Raymond is a versatile hotelier, driven by passion and commitment. She has an in-depth understanding of the hospitality industry.

With over 30 years of experience in the field of hospitality, Lakmini Raymond is a force to reckon with. With expertise in sales and marketing, revenue and business development, she has served at some of the leading international hospitality brands, and recently took on the reins as Vice President – Public Relations and Branding of Aitken Spence Hotel Managements (Pvt) Ltd.

What motivated you to join the hospitality industry?

In one simple word: it is ‘fate’.

Growing up, tourism and hospitality was never in my radar as a career choice. After completing my higher studies, I followed in the footsteps of my family and joined my family-owned printing company. Whilst it was interesting, soon I wanted to venture out on my own and see the world from a ladder made by my own merit. It was by chance that I came across a job opportunity for print and graphics manager at one of the leading international hotels, Hilton Colombo. When I started, my office was in the car park of the building, and not at all a glamorous affair. However, the General Manager at that time, saw my potential and gave me an opportunity to join the hotel’s mainstream operations. I was enrolled in a short Management Trainee programme, after which I joined the sales team.

Since then, there was no turning back. I am in love with this industry; and 32 years later, I am so grateful for that initial opportunity and I have been truly blessed to have been able to work in international hospitality brands as well as a reputed homegrown brand, prior to my appointment at Aitken Spence Hotels.

Congratulation on your new role. How do you feel about handling all this?

Blessed, excited, privileged.

I am excited as I will be able to combine my experiences and work for a Sri Lanka blue-chip conglomerate such as Aitken Spence, that has spearheaded the growth and innovation in the hospitality sector of Sri Lanka. I am certain that I can share my expertise in realizing the company’s next phase of development within the leisure sector.

What do you think are the secrets of your careers longevity and success?

I believe it is the passion I have for this industry. For me, hospitality has become part and parcel of my life. I love the industry and all it entails – the people, the service, the energy. I think if one truly loves what they do and believe in it wholeheartedly, then success would follow.

What does success mean to you?

Success to me is when I can use my accomplishments and share my experiences and expertise to help others achieve company and personal goals.

How do you deal with the pressure of balancing work and home?

The pressure has subsided considerably now, since my sons are now adults. However, I believe even back in the day I set daily goals, I prioritized my tasks and was prepared for unexpected surprises. By keeping my eyes on the results more than the situation, I was able to attain the balance that I set out to achieve.

How has the definition of luxury changed over the year?

The concept of luxury is changing exponentially today due to the fast pace in which societal and cultural norms and expectations are changing. Consumer values and preferences are in flux, thanks to the competing dynamisms of globalization, key changes in consumer mindset, and the disruptive impact of technology. With rapid globalization, a new breed of consumers are created in the market. These consumers have a much broader, multidimensional perception on what quality and luxury can be. The growth in disposable income in the global markets also means material wealth is no longer the only signal of power. The psyche of affluent consumers has shifted and what the look for now is self-actualization.

No longer is luxury just about brands or chic destinations. Those things still matter, but there’s a now new layer to the luxury experience, one in which the accomplishment is experiential and self-actualization.

What will be your sustainability initiatives you will introduce after the end of the pandemic at Aitken Spence Hotels? In doing so, what unique challenges would you meet?

Sustainability in the post pandemic era will be about conservation and commitment – conservation of the environment and commitment towards the social responsibility and the communities.

At Aitken Spence Hotels, these are ethos that are deeply ingrained in the system. Therefore, our work will be to enhance the present setting into creating a holistic approach that are lifestyle-driven and experentail for our guests.

The biggest challenge will be less volume of guests, which we anticipate would continue for at least another 121-18 months and the ever-changing trends in the segment of sustainability.

With the pandemic are you optimistic about travel and hotel sectors in the future? What will be main focus?

Yes, we are optimistic.

The main focus will of course be, safety. Based on this, the trends of travel will change. Personalization will be paramount. The emphasis will be on holistic experience and in creating memories. Travelers will be more appreciative of their holidays due to the uncertainties of tomorrow. There has also been somewhat of a cultural shift in health with more people shifting towards organic food, environmental issues, ethical business, etc which will affect the industry as well.

As the Covid-19 challenge continues, the hotels and the industry continue to slow its resilient. How do your account for this?

Of course, we are resilient. Globally, we have all gone through the wars, acts of terrorisms, natural and man-made disasters. No matter what, the hospitality industry has been resilient, because we, as humans are resilient. Travel has become a part of our lifestyles and is an escape that most long for – whether it is for work or pleasure; therefore, we will always remain.



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“ForHer” campaign for breast cancer awareness

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As part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Street Burger -home of Sri Lanka’s original gourmet burger-, launched its inaugural annual “ForHer” initiative, in collaboration with the Indira Cancer Trust and Suwara Arana -the first paediatric palliative care centre in Sri Lanka. The campaign kicked off on the 1st of October, and for the entire month the restaurant chain committed to donating a portion of every order placed at its outlets towards breast cancer research, medication, and support.

The ForHer campaign was initiated with the intention to not just raise funds, but also increase awareness on breast cancer – the most common type of cancer among females in Sri Lanka-, with the aim to also create a real and tangible impact on how we can steer conversations on the disease to the focus. Throughout the month of October and at all of its outlets –Bambalapitiya, Ethul Kottte, and Mt.Lavinia-, employees wore the iconic pink ribbon as part of their uniform, and all Street Burger customers were given the opportunity to participate and support this health campaign just by purchasing a meal.

“The statistics on breast cancer in Sri Lanka are alarming,” said Mafas Saheer, Operations Manager of Street Burger. “The launch of our ForHer campaign was our way of honouring the women in our communities, and doing our part to provide as much support as we can by raising both awareness and funds for the cause.”

Although launched to coincide with “Pink Ribbon Month”, Street Burger hopes to keep the campaign going well beyond October, with more initiatives to educate and engage its customers and the public for the benefit of all women in Sri Lanka.

Born from humble beginnings from a food truck on Marine Drive, but bolstered by a passion for innovation and love for burgers, Street Burger has now cemented for itself a reputation as the pioneers of gourmet burger culture in Sri Lanka. Street Burger sources the freshest premium-quality ingredients for the preparation of its intensely flavoursome and wide range of signature hand-crafted burgers, fries, and shakes – all made in-house; contributing to the ultimate gourmet burger experience. The brand now operates from three dine-in outlets across Colombo: Bambalapitiya, Ethul Kotte, and Mt. Lavinia.

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Top bridal designer of today

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Indi’s bridal designs design are renowned for its distinctive use of colours, quality of fabrics, intricate embroideries and a glorious rich Sri Lanka culture.Indi is included in the list of best Sri Lankan bridal designers and she is one designer who is acknowledged on the international pedestal for her different and unique designs of bridal ensembles. Her designs are elegant, her taste heavily inspired by local culture

Indi’s reimagination of traditions and styles is what sets her apart. And rightly so according to her the quintessential Indi’s bride is the one who’s self assured, highly confident and well aware of the craft and art.

A bridal attire is no charm if it is not designed under the signature label of popular designers. Indi is one designer whose collection provides ease with style. She creates magic when she puts together her mind and creativity to design any bridal attire.

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To the Ends of the Earth

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by Rajiva Wijesinha

Before the recent publication of Off the Beaten Track, Godage & Bros in this same year produced To the Ends of the Earth, yet another book by Prof Rajiva Wijesinha about his travels in exotic places.

That earlier book looked at four continents, North and South America, Africa and Asia but, as the title indicates, it was about the lesser known extremities of those areas. Beginning with Brazil, the book explores seven countries in South America, and also Mexico and three other countries in Central America along with three in the Caribbean. The travels there began in 1986 and concluded in 2019 with a journey to Bolivia.

That first visit hooked him as it were with the range of people and places he saw, for Brazil ‘struck me not as a melting pot, where everyone strives to settle within particular confines, but rather as a sort of fondue, where individual fiavours can be retained, while a common thread that provides reassurance adheres to each segment.

Being in effect a continent rather than a country does help. There is room for the Teutonic farmers of Rio Grande do Sul, with their expansive ranches and the fabulous churrascarias where one can pig oneself on all sorts of meats cooked in all sorts of ways, while animated conversations, characteristically Latin one would say, flow from all the tables around one; the blacks can have their energetic carnivals in Salvador, only to be outdone by the range of races in Rio who have made a multi-ethnic version of that art form emphatically their own; the mestizos, initially those of mixed American Indian and white blood, grow increasingly darker as one moves northward, and one finds too groups of oriental Indians and Chinese, adding their own characteristics to the mix; while out in the Mato Grosso and the Amazon areas to the west, pure Indians still live, some with lifestyles just the same as those their ancestors had practised for generations before Columbus sailed. ‘

In Peru and Ecuador he found fascinating the blend of Indian art and Christian imagery, the San Ignacio Chapel in Arequipa, decorated by a devoted Indian artist in murals that recreated the delicate plumage of tropical birds, in natural dyes that had survived over two hundred years, later the statues and pillars in many churches in Quito, the exciting capital of Ecuador.

But what entranced above all in this continent was the magnificent civilization of Aztecs and Incas and above all the Mayas. In Mexico he had a glimpse of a continuity of culture when at the great pyramids of Teotihuacan he came across a ritualistic dance, hundreds of young men dressed in evocative traditional costumes, headbands and elaborate cloaks, bare strips of cloth at the waist and intricate leggings, moving or rather stamping energetically in a complex rhythm, up and down, forward and back, persistently, powerfully, to the relentless beating of drums. They continued while he climbed up the pyramids of both the Sun and the Moon, and were still at it when he got back, an absolutely breathtaking sight, close up as well as from the heights that placed the pattern in even more vivid perspective.

And then there were the Mayas, the Temple of the Magician at Uxmal, a pyramid that somehow also had an oval shape, that took his breath away. That motivated another visit, this time to Guatemala, where a helpful consul at the border let him in without a visa to see the great complex at Tikal, deep in the jungle, which he wandered through on his own, to the sounds and sights of exotic birds, toucans and coucals and the colourful Peten turkey.

There were also other sorts of jungle adventures, jumping into the confluence of the two rivers that make up the Amazon at Manaos, fishing for piranhas for supper in the Kumaseva river near Iquitos in Peru, walking in the jungle there while his guide swung on lianas Tarzan fashion in dripping rain.

There are jungle trips in Africa too, crowded safaris in Tanzania and Uganda, tailor made trips in Mozambique and Angola, which allowed for lingering over glorious sunsets over river and sea. More unusual were the religious fantasies of Ethiopia, what was supposed to be the palace of the Queen of Sheba at Axum, the Debre Dammo monastery which had to be reached by climbing a rope, which he was dissuaded from trying to do, a long trek up a steep hill to see the Mariam Korka church, an impressive small building with wonderful paintings on its walls, and its neighbour the Daniel Korka church which required slithering along an open cliff.

There were too the fantastic rock hewn churches of Lalibela, and the monasteries nearby, one a long cave under a rocky ledge, with pilgrims clad in white and swaying gently to the relentless gentle rhythm of wonderful chanting. And there were beautifully illustrated bibles, which the priest held open for inspection without allowing them to be touched. These, and exotic crosses, which you were permitted to kiss, were drawn from ramshackle cupboards with total nonchalance.

Then there was rocking across the crocodile infested Nile in a coracle in Sudan, to see the multiple remains on Sai Island, a temple from the days of the pharaohs, a Byzantine Cathedral and the remains of an Ottoman fort. And nothing had prepared him for the pyramids of the Sudan, not one cluster but two, framed against a large rock at Karima, framed against the sunset at Begrawiya. That had followed a sight of whirling dervishes far outside Khartoum, a whole host walking round and round the open area in the middle, whirling and chanting, while the surrounding crowd joined in what seemed a marvelous frenzy.

Lions and hippos in the Serengeti pale in comparison, though that visit to Tanzania also included the beautiful architecture of Zanzibar and its quaint palaces. As exotic was the hilltop capital of King Moshoeshoe in Lesotho, a surprisingly beautiful country, which even boasted dinosaur footprints.

The Asian sections, looking only at the island nations in the east, provide equally unusual experiences, including ferries through the Moluccas islands, ending in New Year on a far away beach in the Kea Islands, abounding in giant tortoises and colourful starfish.

There were several visits to the Philippines, but the most exciting was the first, when he explored on his own, taking a bus up to Baguio and then to the underground caves at Sagada and the terraced rice fields of Banaue. Very different were several meetings with Ninoy Aquino, President of the Philippines from 2010, including a lunch when he had to make conversation in lieu of the Sri Lankan Prime Minister who gazed blandly into the middle distance.

The range of experience is splendidly illustrated, pages of lively colour and black and white pictures which capture the lines of the different arts and crafts of the different continents.

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