Last week was an eventful week for me. I had the opportunity to get some firsthand experience of an encounter that any visitor to this country may also experience in and around our airport and the big city.
It happened as part of my daughter’s visit for a holiday with her husband. Upon a most enjoyable visit during the same time last year for their honeymoon, they were now making an even more relaxed visit escaping the chilly weather of San Francisco, where they live. Well, the rains did take some of their expectations away, but it was otherwise, a sunny and warm experience.
Sunny, I meant literally referring to how an encounter, that could have spoilt it all was turned into a pleasurable one. This was by a few caring people, who provided an excellent brand of Sri Lankan hospitality that renewed my pride in being a son of this land. It was Friday last, and my kin arrived on a flight that brought them here with three different connections. San Francisco (SFO)– Narita – Singapore – Colombo (CMB). Upon arrival after a brief layover in Singapore, they discovered that the three bags they checked in at SFO had not arrived in CMB. After about an hour’s wait at the belt, a complaint was lodged at the misplaced baggage counter of our national carrier Sri Lankan, who is responsible for all baggage arrangements at the Colombo airport. They had flown another carrier, but it was the experience at the desk and what transpired later that makes the sunny side of the story and the warmth around it, that made me want to share it with you.
It was nearly midnight and they were treated with an alert smile and apologies for what had happened. Every possibility of what they should expect was explained to them in detail by the Sri Lankan ‘smile’ team on duty at the time at the counter. From then on it was a Nadeeka Dickumbura, another member of the team that comes into focus. It is her real name and I informed her that I would be writing about my experience and got her permission to mention her name. That was upon the conclusion of this episode the next day i.e. late Saturday night and her follow-up call on Sunday morning to ensure that all was well. I am yet to meet her and the other members of the team at the ‘Lost Baggage Counter’ in person or write a letter to thank them for the excellent standards they set in managing this situation. In the meantime, I thought of sharing it with all my readers, for it is usually the bad encounters that are highlighted and unprompted excellence, often goes unrecognized and unrewarded.
There was no name dropping or any special favours asked of her, during this encounter as is the case usually in Sri Lanka, when one needs to get due attention.
The initiative to provide her quality brand of service was entirely hers and that is what we appreciated most.
She called my daughter an hour after the complaint was lodged, to tell her that she would do her best to trace the baggage as soon as possible. The next morning we called the airline on which they traveled and they were fast in giving us the complaint number and to let us know that they were at it.
A few hours later on Saturday, Nadeeka upon returning for her work shift, called to inform that the bags have been found and that they would arrive on a Sri Lankan flight that evening at 17.08 hours. She called again around that time to inform us that the flight is delayed by an hour and that she has a special dispatch person ready to deliver the bags to the Mt. Lavinia Hotel, upon its arrival.
I was told by my daughter that they do not usually lock their bags and did not even have a combination lock on them. They only had the zippers around each with no other additional protection on any of them. I was concerned and called Nadeeka again, only to be told that if they arrive in tact en-route to Colombo, we should not have any cause for alarm in its handling of it here. She assured me that the special dispatch person was most trustworthy and that the bags were going through customs at the time.
We were out for dinner that night and were informed that the bags were delivered at the hotel with the Lobby Manager personally seeing to it that they were safely placed in the room. On Sunday afternoon, another manager at the airport called us together with Nadeeka to determine if all the goods were intact, which was the case.
It is true that there is so much that needs improvement and enhancing in the delivery of services at many public places. But it is also true that there are exceptional examples of excellence that we can all learn from and share with others to ensure that there is pride and recognition of those who deliver them.
The episode cited may seem to be another that a traveler may encounter. Yet the feelings and the emotions it generated and the pleasant memories left behind in our minds as a result of Nadeeka and the team’s handling of it gives reason for us to be proud and hopeful of our tourism future. It is the likes of them that will run that extra mile to give out their all, in creating excellence that will make them the heroes of the future of our nation in this phase of its development.
Renton de Alwis is a former Chairman of Sri Lanka Tourism serving two terms during 2000-2002 and again from 2007-2008. He served as Head of the Asia Division of the Pacific Asia Travel Association(PATA) based in Singapore from 1990-96 and as CEO of the National Association of Travel Agents Singapore from 1997-99.
He also served as a Chief Technical Advisor and consultant with the ADB, UNDP, UNWTO, ESCAP, UNICEF and the ILO. Now in retirement, Renton lives away from Colombo in the Deep South of Sri Lanka and is involved in writing and social activism. He can be contacted at [email protected]
(Renton de Alwis is a former Chairman of Sri Lanka Tourism serving two terms during 2000-2002 and again from 2007-2008. He served as Head of the Asia Division of the Pacific Asia Travel Association(PATA) based in Singapore from 1990-96 and as CEO of the National Association of Travel Agents Singapore from 1997-99. He also served as a Chief Technical Advisor and consultant with the ADB, UNDP, UNWTO, ESCAP, UNICEF and the ILO. Now in retirement, Renton lives away from Colombo in the Deep South of Sri Lanka and is involved in writing and social activism. He can be contacted at [email protected].)