Interview by Jennifer Anandanayagam
The Covid-19 pandemic, with its health crisis and corresponding despair, has also given rise to many people taking to social media to disseminate their views on how authorities should be handling matters. Starting this Sunday, The Sunday Morning Brunch will be speaking to people in hospitality about their thoughts on the pandemic and what the future is looking like for Sri Lanka. We begin our series with none other than Nayantara Fonseka, fondly referred to as Taru.
Taru is the Founder and Chairman of Taru Villas – a collection of 14 breath-taking properties in the island. She’s well known for her signature style where history and heritage are preserved in all of her properties, and truly delectable cuisine which are works of art as much as being celebrations for the palate.
Below are excerpts of the interview.
With the second wave of Covid-19 infections across the country and the most recent quarantine curfews, how is Taru Villas – both hotels and your home deliveries – managing?
We have been preparing for a time such as this. Our first concern is the safety and welfare of our staff – close monitoring of their movements and ensuring that guidelines are followed diligently. As for our home deliveries, we are managing the best we can again because of our faithful and loyal staff and our long-term suppliers who have never let us down.
What are some of the lessons learned during the first lockdown that are coming in handy during this quarantine curfew?
We have learnt the importance of maintaining a relationship with our public health inspector (PHI), Ministry of Health (MoH), and the local police personnel at all times. We are grateful for their work during these trying times. Ensuring regular PHI reports from suppliers and careful sanitisation procedures is another aspect. We have also readied ourselves for a dramatic increase in food delivery orders from our Colombo property, Taru Villas – Lake Lodge, during the curfew/lockdown period.
Realistically speaking, what is your forecast for Sri Lanka for the next few weeks/months? How do you think we are going to be celebrating Christmas and New Year this year?
Aside from our regular local guests who choose us regardless of terrorist bombs and pandemics, the short and medium-term future for international tourism looks bleak.
I am being optimistic when I say “December 2021 will see a change”. As for Christmas and New Year 2021, who knows? At this juncture, planning this time with our own families seems far-fetched. Although, Taru Villas has been promoting Christmas and New Year’s celebrations and we have had a fair response from our local “friends”. But can we really plan ahead without knowing what each day brings? I believe that home deliveries will do alright during the festive time.
There seems to be varied opinions online with regard to how the Government should be handling this wave of infections, which some are even causing more infectious than the previous strain. What are your thoughts? Do you think the Government is doing enough? What else can we be doing?
I know that the Government has done the best they can and continue to do so. We the people so easily forgot (as usual) to be careful. If each of us took responsibility for ourselves and our loved ones, would we be here?
Is the hospitality industry going to be changed forever because of this pandemic?
Absolutely. Air travel is going to be so expensive (I believe it already is) that people will have to plan their travels two to three years ahead. Five-star hotel accommodation, for sure, will be replaced by the preferred whole villa booking concept. This is where small hotel owners will excel. At least this is my humble opinion.
A word on delivery platforms; how and where do you think Sri Lanka is lacking when it comes to food delivery?
The options for food delivery are vast and I guess it’s convenient for home cooks and most restaurants to use these delivery platforms. However, from the inception of Taru’s Kitchen at Lake Lodge by Taru, I have insisted on doing our own deliveries. This is because I can guarantee the sanitised vehicles used and the hygiene of our drivers and accompanying staff being of a high standard.
I must say that my colleagues have been very opposed to my stand on this as they feel we can reach a larger number of people through other platforms. Whilst I agree with them, I am glad the few loyalists we serve get the best of all we offer.
When do you realistically see airports opening and foreign travel becoming a reality again?
I have no clue! I shall wait patiently for the day our borders open and travel becomes a possibility again. Until such time, I believe we should enjoy this beautiful land of ours and grow to appreciate it more than we actually do. So until such time, travel the length and breadth of this magnificent land and keep Sri Lanka’s hospitality industry alive and well with your valued patronage.
What is your message to fellow Sri Lankans who are struck with despair and frustration right now?
This too shall pass. Meanwhile, do the best you can to care for and love as well as share with your neighbour. Give to those who ask. Take care of one another and stop with the blame game. Help those in governance to do what they must to establish a safe and a well Sri Lanka for us to enjoy and learn to live in harmony with each other.
What is your advice to everyone at home waiting out this curfew? How should they employ their time and take care of their mental health?
Read, play cards, find a hobby, do a jigsaw puzzle a day, forgive your enemies, learn to play an instrument, say “I love you” to all you love and learn to love those you don’t, be grateful, be thankful, pray and meditate, and sing and dance like there is no tomorrow.