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STARTING OFF WITH A BANG! – Part 34

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CONFESSIONS OF A GLOBAL GYPSY

By Dr. Chandana (Chandi) Jayawardena DPhil

President – Chandi J. Associates Inc. Consulting, Canada Founder & Administrator – Global Hospitality Forum

chandij@sympatico.ca

Having started as the new Food & Beverage Manager and Executive Chef of Hotel Ceysands on October 1, 1977, I was on a fast track to re-organize my departments. As I had exactly one month to organize the re-opening of these departments, I had no time to waste. I worked around the clock and went to my apartment only to get four or five hours of sleep well past midnight every day. Having gained two years’ experience in a similar position at Coral Gardens Hotel, I felt fully prepared for my new job.

A Hotel in two Towns

The location of Hotel Ceysands was unique. A hotel on a beach strip located between sea water and fresh water was romantic and provided a lot of opportunities for a variety of water sports. All guest areas were on the river bank on the sea side in the town of Bentota. The ancient name of this town was derived from a mythical story which claims a demon named ‘Bem’ ruled the ‘tota’ or river bank.

All employee areas, the main entrance to the hotel property and the security post were on the river bank on the land side in another town – Aluthgama (new town). This town had a small center with some interesting shops, a bustling local market and a busy bus station. Although not as beautiful as Bentota, Aluthgama was active and generally hectic. The most famous attraction near this town is the famous Buddhist temple – Kande Vihara (temple on the hill). It was built in the year 1734 and has been formally recognised by the government as an archaeological site.

The architecture of Hotel Ceysands was not as grand as its neighbour – Bentota Beach Hotel, but was designed to suit the shape of the available land. A major challenge for the new managing agents – Walkers Tours and the hotel re-opening management team was that the poor interior design had no clear concept. During the short period of time available to restart the tourist season in 1977, only some urgent work was done, enough to create a more welcoming first impression. The major refurbishing was planned after six months, during the 1978 tourist off season.

Learning Complex Cultures

I spent a short time to quickly familiarize myself with the culture of the area, that of the company which owned Ceysands – Ceylinco Limited and new managing agents – Walkers Tours and their owner – John Keells Group.

Ceylinco was a well-established group of companies, led by its second generation of owners headed by Mr. Lalith Kotelawala as the Chairman. He had built the renamed Ceylinco into a major company (in later years expanded to have over 500 subsidiary companies). Their head office was at the then tallest building in Sri Lanka – Ceylinco House in Colombo. Ceylinco owned and operated three hotels – Ceylinco Hotel in Colombo with the famous 14th floor restaurant Akasa Kade, San Michele Island Resort by Bolgoda Lake and Hotel Ceysands.

In 1977, a majority of the management team of Ceysands were managers previously recruited by Ceylinco, and whose loyalty was clearly with Ceylinco Group. These managers included the Hotel Manager – Alan Silva, Boats & Maintenance Manager – Mendis, and the Executive Housekeeper – Malini Kotelawala (an aunt of the Chairman and a cousin of the third Prime Minister of Ceylon – General Sir John Kotelawala). The General Manager of the hotel, Captain Wicks, a senior executive of Walkers Tours had a challenge. He realized that he must gradually encourage the loyalty and support of these managers who were used to a different style of leadership. Not everybody liked too many changes.

Two years later, in 1979, I befriended Mr. Lalith Kotelawala and his wife, Sicille who occasionally stayed at Hotel Swanee which they loved. I was the Manager of that Keells hotel at that time. In 1981, by then, as a corporate executive, I took over the management of Ceylinco Hotel on behalf of John Keells group and re-organized the hotel. Mr. Lalith Kotelawala once told me that, “It is best that my company relies on professionals in your business to manage our hotels.”

Walkers Tours, then the leading tour operator and hotel management company was founded in 1969. A visionary businessman and lawyer, Mr. Sriyantha Senaratne had been the Managing Director since 1971. When Walkers Tours was acquired by John Keells Group of companies in 1972, he continued in that position. Captain Wicks enjoyed reporting to him. I met Mr. Senaratne once at Hotel Ceysands during our pre re-opening period. I had a brief chat with this soft-spoken gentleman. I was impressed to hear that it was he who led the commencement of the Habarana Village hotel project. He was also passionate about tourism development in the Maldives. I was pleased when the new uniforms, material and supplies arrived with the logo. It was very similar to opening of a new hotel.

John Keells Group, the owning company of Walkers Tours was founded in Ceylon by Britishers in the 1870s. It was initially set up as a manufacturer of tea and essential foods. During the 1970s after the then socialist government nationalized tea estates, the company mainly focused on new opportunities in tourism. Under the leadership of then Chairman Mark Bostock, John Keells became a diverse group of companies. He once told a group of executives including me, that in the early 1970s, he was invited to a meeting by then Prime Minister of Sri Lanka who initiated the nationalizing of tea estates. He said, “The Madam Prime Minister told me that tea is not the only business one can do when a rich company has a multi-talented and experienced team. Mrs. B. planted some seeds in my mind!” Today, John Keells Holdings PLC (JKH) is Sri Lanka’s largest listed company on the Colombo Stock Exchange. It is also the undisputed leader of the tourism and hospitality industries in the country.

Planning, Developing, and Training

In my planning work I focused mainly on human resources, new menus, supplies, logistics (in coordination with the boat department), food and beverage controls. Filling all job vacancies in the kitchen, restaurant and bars, plus arranging on the job training for new employees was a top priority. As time was limited, I did some quick ‘train the trainer’ sessions for all the supervisors in my departments. After that, I directed them to devote considerable amount of time in training the new recruits. I spent time checking their skills after the training.

Before the new management took over the hotel, Ceysands did not have many large buffet products. Based on tour groups requests, I re-trained the kitchen brigade to prepare large buffets for all dinners. To strengthen the kitchen, I personally selected two excellent kitchen interns from the Ceylon Hotel School. These students – Mallawarchchi and Lokuge were only a few years younger to me. They both were eager to acquire knowledge and dreamt of becoming Executive Chefs in the future. I became their mentor and inspiration. They were a great addition to my team. Two of them helped in my efforts to re-train the kitchen brigade which included highly experienced cooks and newcomers.

I devoted a considerable amount of time to do all menu planning, requisitioning, seasoning all main courses, doing all buffet decorations and arrangements, as well as all the à la carte cooking. My background in visual art including sculpture continued to be useful in culinary arts. I made sure that appropriate assistants under-studied me on all these tasks. The experience I gained at the Coral Gardens Hotels helped me to build good team spirit among the kitchen brigade and the young teams who worked at the restaurant and bars. We worked very hard and felt that we were fully ready to re-open the hotel by the end of October, 1977.

Coach loads of tourists arrived on Walkers Tours buses soon after the tourist season began in early November, 1977. As predicted, the occupancy shot up to 100% within days. Being managed by the largest tour operator of the island meant that the hotel management team did not have to worry about any marketing and sales. Captain Wicks was a little worried that something would go wrong as we hardly had enough time to train all the new employees.

My strategy of recruiting very young service employees with big smiles and great attitudes, rather than experienced employees from other hotels, worked well. One can train employees basic service skills fairly quickly, but no one can be trained to smile and have the right service attitude. The tourists and tour leaders loved our service staff and the quality and variety of food we presented. We certainly commenced the season with a bang!

Captain Wicks was impressed with the performances of my teams during season commencement and said, “Chandana, you are a breath of fresh air.” That was motivating. I soon became his right-hand man. We brainstormed about the entertainment and activities calendar to coordinate with the seven-dinner buffet package I had developed.

As most of our guests stayed at Ceysands for two weeks, it was essential that we provided a wide variety of entertainment and activities. I learnt a lot from Captain Wicks about organization, logistics and public relations, and he learnt from me about hospitality operations. We both were quick learners. Alan was supportive of our innovative ideas and plans. At the age 23, I was the youngest among seven departmental heads and executives of Ceysands, but was the most experienced in terms of hospitality operations. Captain Wicks was 20 years older than me and Allan was 15 years older than me.

“I am told by the European tour leaders that the perfect resort is where the management team works and plays while making the guests happy” Captain Wicks told Alan and me. “Of course, Captain, that is right. Let’s make Ceysands the most active hotel in the south coast of Sri Lanka!”, I contributed optimism to the vision. The team agreed on that goal.



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BRICS emerging as strong rival to G7

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It was in the fitness of things for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to hold a special telephonic conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin recently for the purpose of enlightening the latter on the need for a peaceful, diplomatic end to the Russian-initiated blood-letting in Ukraine. Hopefully, wise counsel and humanity would prevail and the world would soon witness the initial steps at least to a complete withdrawal of invading Russian troops from Ukraine.

The urgency for an early end to the Russian invasion of Ukraine which revoltingly testifies afresh to the barbaric cruelty man could inflict on his fellows, is underscored, among other things, by the declaration which came at the end of the 14th BRICS Summit, which was held virtually in Beijing recently. Among other things, the declaration said: ‘BRICS reaffirms commitment to ensuring the promotion and protection of democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all with the aim to build a brighter shared future for the international community based on mutually beneficial cooperation.’

It is anybody’s guess as to what meanings President Putin read into pledges of the above kind, but it does not require exceptional brilliance to perceive that the barbaric actions being carried out by his regime against Ukrainian civilians make a shocking mockery of these enlightened pronouncements. It is plain to see that the Russian President is being brazenly cynical by affixing his signature to the declaration. The credibility of BRICS is at risk on account of such perplexing contradictory conduct on the part of its members. BRICS is obliged to rectify these glaring irregularities sooner rather than later.

At this juncture the important clarification must be made that it is the conduct of the Putin regime, and the Putin regime only, that is being subjected to censure here. Such strictures are in no way intended to project in a negative light, the Russian people, who are heirs to a rich, humanistic civilization that produced the likes of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, among a host of other eminent spirits, who have done humanity proud and over the decades guided humans in the direction of purposeful living. May their priceless heritage live long, is this columnist’s wish.

However, the invaluable civilization which the Russian people have inherited makes it obligatory on their part to bring constant pressure on the Putin regime to end its barbarism against the Ukrainian civilians who are not at all party to the big power politics of Eastern Europe. They need to point out to their rulers that in this day and age there are civilized, diplomatic and cost-effective means of resolving a state’s perceived differences with its neighbours. The spilling of civilian blood, on the scale witnessed in Ukraine, is a phenomenon of the hoary past.

The BRICS grouping, which encompasses some of the world’s predominant economic and political powers, if not for the irregular conduct of the Putin regime, could be said to have struck on a policy framework that is farsighted and proactive on the issue of global equity.

There is the following extract from a report on its recent summit declaration that needs to be focused on. It reads: BRICS notes the need to ensure “Meaningful participation of developing and least developed countries, especially in Africa, in global decision-making processes and structures and make it better attuned to contemporary realities.”

The above are worthy goals that need to be pursued vigorously by global actors that have taken upon themselves the challenge of easing the lot of the world’s powerless countries. The urgency of resuming the North-South Dialogue, among other questions of importance to the South, has time and again been mentioned in this column. This is on account of the fact that the most underdeveloped regions of the South have been today orphaned in the world system.

Given that the Non-aligned Movement and like organizations, that have espoused the resolution of Southern problems over the decades, are today seemingly ineffective and lacking in political and economic clout, indications that the BRICS grouping is in an effort to fill this breach is heartening news for the powerless of the world. Indeed, the crying need is for the poor and powerless to be brought into international decision-making processes that affect their wellbeing and it is hoped that BRICS’s efforts in this regard would bear fruit.

What could help in increasing the confidence of the underdeveloped countries in BRICS, is the latter’s rising economic and political power. While in terms of economic strength, the US remains foremost in the world with a GDP of $ 20.89 trillion, China is not very far behind with a GDP of $ 14.72 trillion. The relevant readings for some other key BRICS countries are as follows: India – $ 2.66 trillion, Russia – $ 1.48 trillion and Brazil $ 1.44 trillion. Of note is also the fact that except for South Africa, the rest of the BRICS are among the first 15 predominant economies, assessed in GDP terms. In a global situation where economics drives politics, these figures speak volumes for the growing power of the BRICS countries.

In other words, the BRICS are very much abreast of the G7 countries in terms of a number of power indices. The fact that many of the BRICS possess a nuclear capability indicates that in military terms too they are almost on par with the G7.

However, what is crucial is that the BRICS, besides helping in modifying the world economic order to serve the best interests of the powerless as well, contribute towards changing the power balances within the vital organs of the UN system, such as the UN Security Council, to render them more widely representative of changing global power realities.

Thus, India and Brazil, for example, need to be in the UNSC because they are major economic powers in their own right. Since they are of a democratic orientation, besides pushing for a further democratization of the UN’s vital organs, they would be in a position to consistently work towards the wellbeing of the underprivileged in their respective regions, which have tremendous development potential.

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Queen of Hearts

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She has certainly won the hearts of many with the charity work she is engaged in, on a regular basis, helping the poor, and the needy.

Pushpika de Silva was crowned Mrs. Sri Lanka for Mrs. World 2021 and she immediately went into action, with her very own charity project – ‘Lend a Helping Hand.’

When launching this project, she said: “Lend a Helping Hand is dear to me. With the very meaning of the title, I am extending my helping hand to my fellow brothers and sisters in need; in a time where our very existence has become a huge question and people battling for daily survival.”

Since ‘Lend a Helping Hand’ became a reality, last year, Pushpika has embarked on many major charity projects, including building a home for a family, and renovating homes of the poor, as well.

The month of June (2022) saw Pushpika very much in action with ‘Lend a Helping Hand.’

She made International Father’s Day a very special occasion by distributing food items to 100 poor families.

“Many are going without a proper meal, so I was very keen, in my own way, to see that these people had something to keep the hunger pangs away.”

A few days later, the Queen of Hearts made sure that 50 more people enjoyed a delicious and nutritious meal.

“In these trying times, we need to help those who are in dire straits and, I believe, if each one of us could satisfy the hunger, and thirst, of at least one person, per day, that would be a blessing from above.”

Pushpika is also concerned about the mothers, with kids, she sees on the roads, begging.

“How helpless is a mother, carrying a small child, to come to the street and ask for something.

“I see this often and I made a special effort to help some of them out, with food and other necessities.”

What makes Pushpika extra special is her love for animals, as well, and she never forgets the street dogs that are having a tough time, these days, scavenging for food.

“These animals, too, need food, and are voiceless, so we need to think of them, as well. Let’s have mercy on them, too. Let’s love them, as well.”

The former beauty queen served a delicious meal for the poor animals, just recently, and will continue with all her charity projects, on a regular basis, she said.

Through her charity project, ‘Lend a Helping Hand,” she believes she can make a change, though small.

And, she says, she plans to be even more active, with her charity work, during these troubled times.

We wish Pushpika de Silva all the very best, and look forward to seeing more of her great deeds, through her ‘Lend a Helping Hand’ campaign.

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Hope and political change:No more Appachis to the rescue

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KUPPI on the current economic and political crisis: intervention 1

by Harshana Rambukwella

In Buddhist literature, there is the Parable of the Burning House where the children of a wealthy man, trapped inside a burning house, refuse to leave it, fearful of leaving its comfort – because the flames are yet to reach them. Ultimately, they do leave because the father promises them wonderful gifts and are saved from the fire. Sri Lankans have long awaited such father figures – in fact, our political culture is built on the belief that such ‘fathers’ will rescue us. But this time around no fathers are coming. As Sri Lankans stare into an uncertain future, and a multitude of daily sufferings, and indignities continue to pile upon us, there is possibly one political and emotional currency that we all need – hope. Hope is a slippery term. One can hope ‘in-vain’ or place one’s faith in some unachievable goal and be lulled into a sense of complacency. But, at the same time, hope can be critically empowering – when insurmountable obstacles threaten to engulf you, it is the one thing that can carry you forward. We have innumerable examples of such ‘hope’ from history – both religious and secular. When Moses led the Israelites to the promised land, ‘hope’ of a new beginning sustained them, as did faith in God. When Queen Viharamahadevi set off on a perilous voyage, she carried hope, within her, along with the hope of an entire people. When Martin Luther King Jr made his iconic ‘I have a dream’ speech, hope of an America where Black people could live in dignity, struck a resonant chord and this historical sense of hope also provided inspiration for the anti-Apartheid struggle in South Africa.

This particular moment, in Sri Lanka, feels a moment of ‘hopelessness’. In March and April, this year, before the cowardly attack on the Gota Go Gama site, in Galle Face, there was a palpable sense of hope in the aragalaya movement as it spread across the country. While people were struggling with many privations, the aragalaya channeled this collective frustration into a form of political and social action, we have rarely seen in this country. There were moments when the aragalaya managed to transcend many divisions – ethnic, religious and class – that had long defined Sri Lanka. It was also largely a youth led movement which probably added to the ‘hope’ that characterized the aragalaya. However, following the May 09th attack something of this ‘hope’ was lost. People began to resign themselves to the fact that the literally and metaphorically ‘old’ politics, and the corrupt culture it represents had returned. A Prime Minister with no electoral base, and a President in hiding, cobbled together a shaky and illegitimate alliance to stay in power. The fuel lines became longer, the gas queues grew, food prices soared and Sri Lanka began to run out of medicines. But, despite sporadic protests and the untiring commitment of a few committed activists, it appeared that the aragalaya was fizzling out and hope was stagnant and dying, like vehicles virtually abandoned on kilometers-long fuel queues.

However, we now have a moment where ‘hope’ is being rekindled. A national movement is gathering pace. As the prospect of the next shipment of fuel appears to recede into the ever-distant future, people’s anger and frustration are once again being channeled towards political change. This is a do-or-die moment for all Sri Lankans. Regardless of our political beliefs, our ideological orientation, our religion or class, the need for political change has never been clearer. Whether you believe that an IMF bailout will save us, or whether you believe that we need a fundamental change in our economic system, and a socially and economically more just society, neither of these scenarios will come to pass without an immediate political change. The political class that now clings to power, in this country, is like a cancer – poisoning and corrupting the entire body politic, even as it destroys itself. The Prime Minister who was supposed to be the messiah channeling international goodwill and finances to the country has failed miserably and we have a President who seems to be in love with the idea of ‘playing president’. The Sri Lankan people have a single existential choice to make in this moment – to rise as one to expel this rotten political order. In Sri Lanka, we are now in that burning house that the Buddha spoke of and we all seem to be waiting for that father to appear and save us. But now we need to change the plot of this parable. No father will come for us. Our fathers (or appachis) have led us to this sorry state. They have lied, deceived and abandoned us. It is now up to us to rediscover the ‘hope’ that will deliver us from the misery of this economic and political crisis. If we do not act now the house will burn down and we will be consumed in its flames.

Initiated by the Kuppi Collective, a group of academics and activists attached to the university system and other educational institutes and actions.

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