Welcome to another installment of the “Life Behind Bars” series – handlebars of course! A chance for you to meet the team behind the magic.
While your Tour Leader is going to be the most obvious touchpoint when exploring a new destination, there is also a small army of people working behind the scenes to help bring your experience to life; and a crucial part of that team are our Destination Managers. In every country it’s important to have a key person, with boots on the ground, to help coordinate tour activities, hotels and guest support; and Vinoli is that ringleader in Sri Lanka. We had a quick Q&A, so you can discover a little more about her and the place she calls home.
The view from World's End, Horton Plains
Hi Vinoli, a quick background for readers, what was the journey for you to begin working in travel, and what do you enjoy most about it?
For over 5 years I worked in the banking industry but I was never really truly passionate about my work - my real passion was travel. One day I decided I was fed up and thought, "why shouldn’t I work in the travel industry and follow my passion?" so I changed my career. My first stop was working for a local travel company and I handled inbound tourism and airline ticketing. From there I went on to work in the hotel industry before landing my dream job at Grasshopper. I started as a tour coordinator and after a few years with the company was promoted into my current role as Destination Manager. I love to work in this industry because I love to travel and explore more elements of my country - I’m very fortunate to have traveled widely across Sri Lanka and appreciate how diverse and amazing my country is.
Let's get into an interest point for many - What are your top 3 places to visit in Sri Lanka?
1. Horton Plains (pictured above), it’s not everyone’s favorite but it is mine by far! The mist fields, excellent hiking, amazing views (if you manage to avoid the fog) and of course the deer.
2. Wilpattu - This national park in the western part of Sri Lanka is the place to go if you want to spot the famous leopards!
3. Galle Fort - Chilled and cosy and multicultural, what more can I say?
When not exploring your own backyard, what have been some of your favorite destinations outside the country?
Chiang Mai! [Thailand] White Water Rafting in the mountains on the outskirts - amazing!
Siem Reap! [Cambodia] I visited Siem Reap for work and did a fantastic tuk tuk food tour and of course the amazing Angkor temples.
Singapore - my best friend lives there - party time!
The new happy family
Not so long ago you had your first baby, how have you found being a new mother and balancing that with a career?
To tell the truth it's actually a bit stressful, but covid has actually given me more time to spend with my baby and to learn from other new mums, and of course get help from my husband Thiwanka! With the reduced work there isn’t much to balance, but the flexibility of working with Grasshopper and being able to do much of it from home really couldn’t have come at a better time!
A slightly more somber question. The Easter bombings in 2019 followed by COVID the year after have been devastating on the Sri Lankan tourism industry, how have you seen the county cope, and what is the path looking like to recovery?
Small businesses have been particularly affected with little time to rebuild before the two key events. On the positive side, most of the people are now trying to buy local and support our fellow Sri Lankans. So locals are traveling within Sri Lanka to support the travel industry and help it survive. The road to recovery is starting, but the road will be long as we rebuild trust with local communities to welcome guests again and break down the thinking that visitors are a risk to health. That said, the vaccine program is already well underway and many of us lucky ones in Sri Lanka between 30-60 have already been jabbed, it’s a start and we are making good headway in that space.
Delicious Sri Lankan Crab Curry
Back to a personal question - Food for many (us included!) is a big priority on any trip, how would you describe Sri Lankan cuisine, in general, to a would-be visitor, and what is your favorite dish?
Spicy to sour to sweet you can have it all in Sri Lanka but spice is the word. In one plate you will get all the flavors you could imagine. A simple chicken curry and rice never tasted so good!
My favourite dish without a doubt is: Coconut sambal, Chicken Curry, or Crab Curry with rice or string hoppers!
Active adventure is a big part of what we do at Grasshopper, but when traveling personally what do you like to do on vacation?
Hiking is my absolute favorite. My husband and I have explored many corners of our country and hiking has always been central to this. My other passion is exploring new accommodation properties, with my favorite being small boutiques, villas, and cozy places. I’m always on the lookout for the best for our customers!
If you had to choose between beach, rainforest or mountains what would be your first pick to visit and why?
Tie between rainforest or mountains, because I grew up next to the beach so I like to do something different when traveling. I love to be surrounded by trees and nature, and where better to do that in the rainforest and mountains? Or better still a rainforest in the mountains!
Laid back Negombo Beach, Sri Lanka
Pre-trip, what question do you most often get from incoming guests and what would be your response?
Whether to stay in Negombo or Colombo on the first night. To keep things simple if you want a relaxed, quiet hotel stay and enjoy the beachside sun - Negombo is where you want to be
If you prefer to explore historic sites, city culture and the hustle and bustle of a capital city Colombo is the right choice!
After visiting Sri Lanka what is the most common highlight you’ll hear from guests about their experience?
The challenging yet rewarding cycles. All our Sri Lanka tours hold some sort of challenge - but in Sri Lanka challenge usually equals huge rewards whether that is a stunning view or picture-perfect hotel lodging. Challenging cycles get you there, so they are always the biggest highlight.
"Bangkok... It's a special part of my life"
Once international travel restrictions have improved, where will be top of your list to visit and why?
Australia - to visit my boss Jake (if he is there!) & my brother who both live quite close to each other coincidentally. En-route I’d transit via Singapore to meet my bestie and on the way back via Bangkok, because I feel it's a special part of my life - for a reason I can’t quite put my finger on.
In February Sri Lanka launched an innovative plan to kickstart travel and welcome international visitors again. How has the success of that program been?
It has been successful and importantly it’s a start. The next step is the government is now trying to bring down the quarantine from 14 days to 10 days. There have been many people who have visited, but the cost is still quite high, there is no denying that. But if you want to travel it’s an investment you won’t regret.
Aberdeen Falls in the district of Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka. Just one of the many waterfalls in Sri Lanka.
Final question - What is a hidden or little-known highlight of Sri Lanka that might surprise readers, or even us for that matter?
Sri Lanka has over 400 waterfalls! Waterfall hunting is a highlight for anyone!
Like to know more about Sri Lanka? Try some of these articles:
- Top 5 historical sights in Sri Lanka
- Wildlife spotting in Sri Lanka
- Is traveling Sri Lanka safe?
- Cycling in Sri Lanka - The time of my life
- Beyond the highlights of Sri Lanka
- Biking across hill country - Sri Lanka through my eyes
Keen to visit Vinoli and the team? Take a look at our Sri Lanka tour collection