Sudarshi Weerakoon runs Tunnel Gap Homestay in Ella, Sri Lanka. In 2017, when two guests arrived in a terrible state, she went beyond the call of duty to make their stay an unforgettable one. In fact, her dedication to hospitality earned her a nomination for a Booking.com #BookingHero
Expect the unexpected
Dutch couple Harry and Nienke were hiking in Ella Rock when Harry fell and damaged his ankle. At that time my guesthouse was closed because I was heavily pregnant, but I opened it just for them and gave them a place to stay. Harry couldn’t walk properly – it was so sad to see him like that. It was really hard, as I was about to deliver my baby within just a few days. But if we didn’t help him at that time, he would have been so helpless.
Harry and Nienke have since become like a part of the family. They came to visit me in hospital after I had my baby girl, which was a wonderful surprise. You never normally see tourists there.
Make your welcome as warm as possible
The first impression is most important because once the guests arrive we should be ready for them. I have my own way of welcoming them. I display their names on the boards and on the door. They know we’re ready for their arrival, and this makes the guests feel happy. I welcome them with a very big smile and I give them my time and look after them.
I believe I treat my guests as more than a guest. They are almost like my own family members – sometimes even more than my own relations. I like to keep in touch, so I ask for their email address or Facebook and wish them well for their birthdays and their festivals. I enjoy taking some time for my former guests in my routine. As a result, I have a lot of emails and friends in my Facebook list. We have a special bond, and many guests come back again.
Give guests a local flavour
We serve a traditional Sri Lankan breakfast as well as a Western-style breakfast. My banana pancake is really famous and very popular among guests. I serve these pancakes to each and every guest, and sometimes people end up staying more than one day just because of them. You could say it’s become my signature!
While it’s important to give people a taste of Sri Lanka, you also need to observe your guests and the cultures they come from. Over the past few years, I’ve seen certain things guests enjoy and therefore can give them a better experience based on their tastes.
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Be prepared for the downs as well as ups
Running a guesthouse is a relatively recent thing for me. I was a teacher and I lost my job, and after that I decided to go into tourism. I was sad to lose my job, but my life and work now are like heaven for me. It all came about five years ago when I had to undergo major surgery in my spine and I was in a wheelchair for quite a long time. I thought everything had stopped because I couldn’t do anything. I was thinking of what I could for a living.
It was a very bad period for me. Even the doctors said I wouldn’t be able to walk again, but through determination and dedication I was able to do it. So after that I just thought: no, I need to start something. As I knew this region of Sri Lanka was a heavenly place for tourism, I took the opportunity to start my own thing. I didn’t have many facilities, but I started with my hospitality and humility – and that was more than enough to get this place off the ground.
It was very difficult for me at the beginning because I didn’t have any money as I had spent all my money on my operation. I didn’t have any income coming in. In the early days, I didn’t know such an organisation like Booking.com existed, but once I joined it, lots of people started to come to my guesthouse.
I discovered very quickly that you have to be strong in your life – it keeps you alive. Don’t give up. If at one point you fall, you can restart your life with a new beginning and in a new way. There will be success for you, but just never give up.
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Sudarshi Weerakoon runs Tunnel Gap Homestay in Ella, Sri LankaMore by Sudarshi Weerakoon
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