Tech has changed travel for the better. But…

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Last week I wanted to travel to Badulla where I could do the Namunukula hike. Usually, this involves camping. But I wanted to hike Namunukula and then head off to Ella the same day. So this meant I had to get to Badulla early morning. My best bet was to take the bus and I just remembered that we wrote about the SLTB’s online booking platform some time back.

I thought I might as well give it a try. To my surprise, the booking process was both convenient and quick. Now I know smooth online transactions are nothing to get excited about. But keep in mind this is a government entity we’re talking about. So within just a few minutes I booked a seat and a receipt for my ticket was issued to my email and my phone number. Perfect.

Tech has changed travel for the better. But... 8

The journey to Badulla

Next was finding a place to stay in Ella for the night. My usual go-to option when it comes to booking a place is Booking.com. Why? Because I’ve often found better range of options compared to the alternatives. Plus, it has quite a few budget friendly options. My one-night stay in Ella cost me only LKR 750, with breakfast.

But in case you’re curious, here’s a listicle I did some time back about the different platforms available in Sri Lanka.

All that was left was for me to actually go on the trip, and so I did, the very next day. I got myself to the SLTB Bus Station at Pettah at around 10.30 PM. On the far corner, was one of those tourist buses. A little over 6 hours later, I arrived in Badulla the following morning. This is where help from technology took a backseat. There wasn’t much it could do to help me get to the Namunukula mountain. Though I did manage to look up a couple of blog posts of travelers who have already made the hike. So I guess that sentence isn’t entirely true.

Bookings | Booking.com | travel

Fast forward about 6 hours later, I was on my way to Ella. As I was heading there, I realized I’ve been uploading Instagram stories of my journey right through out without a hitch. I’ve been on Dialog 4G LTE the whole time, even while I was at the top of Namunukula. Despite the many complaints we have of the telcos in Sri Lanka I was genuinely thankful for the good internet coverage.

I had to get up next day at around 5.00 in the morning. I was to catch the sunrise on top of Little Adam’s Peak. Unfortunately, my timing went off and I just missed the sunrise. But nevertheless I made the climb.

Tech has my back

Now I’m a keen mobile photographer. Over the years all the phone reviews got me used to the smartphone cameras entirely. Most phones that come out nowadays go crazy with the camera, packing so many features that most of us don’t really end up using at all. That goes the same for me as well. The only time I do use all these camera features is when I do reviews. But the hike was the first time I actually found a practical use for the ultrawide lens on my Mate 20. Thanks Huawei.

Tech has changed travel for the better. But... 9
It was either the ultrawide lens or fall off the mountain trying to get the distance for the shot on the Huawei Mate 20

Following hundreds of shots clicking the camera, it was time to head back home. I always opt for the train whenever I’m travelling purely because I live close to a train station. The easiest way is to do a Google search. I used to rely on apps to view the train times. But unfortunately, none of these apps work properly (including the one from ICTA) and the UI feels half a decade outdated at least. But thanks to Malinda Prasad, viewing the train timetable is only a Google search away. So I got myself on the 9.25 AM train to Colombo and with that, my trip came to an end.

One thing I’ve come to realize is that even with everything happening in Sri Lanka, technology has certainly made things easier for us. Traveling included. But obviously, this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t expect better. Even during the trip there were things that I wished were there.

SLTB Express could improve

Everything else about SLTB Express remained the same since the first time we wrote about it, which is good. But there are few things that it could prove to be useful for commuters.

One, is return tickets. One of the things that could come in handy is the availability of return tickets when opting for these long distance trips. Although this is already available for daily commuters in some trains, buses under the SLTB don’t have this option at all.

SLTB Express | Travel
Colombo to Kandy: Check. Kandy to Colombo: Well, not so much

Another minor downside is the limited availability of buses to book online. Most of the routes available on the site is limited to 10. These are usually one way. For example, you can book a ticket from Colombo to Jaffna, but not the other way round. But I’m sure this is just a matter of time and the SLTB will start adding more buses on to the platform soon. For now, SLTB Express serves better for travelers than for the daily commuter.

Booking tickets for trains is a bitch

There is no question about trains being the most convenient and cheapest option for commuting in Sri Lanka. But it’s not exactly fun when you’re trying to book a ticket online. On some routes like Colombo-Badulla, booking a 1st class ticket sometimes required you to do so at least a month prior. This is regardless of it being online or offline. If more resources were put into expanding this area, I’m sure the Railway department will have a lot of grateful travelers.

Speaking of tickets, I wonder if we will ever move out of old cardboard pieces and modernize the whole process. I mean, nobody enjoys waiting in queues every day getting to/from work. If there was an option for the daily commuter to do this online, now there’s something that would make a lot of lives easier.

So Sri Lanka should leverage tech

One of the most recent campaigns that the Sri Lanka Tourism Ministry is attempting is to promote Sri Lankan tourism. This was through the “So Sri Lanka” branding. It sounds like a sarcastic remark than a tourism campaign. But here’s the thing. No amount of branding is going to add value if you’re not serving the purpose properly.

Fancy abstract videos and promotions will only get you so far

I believe the campaign could do a stellar job with tech. Get a few good travel writers. Get them to do travel content around the many amazing places and experiences Sri Lanka has to offer. This doesn’t mean talking just about Ella, Mirissa, Sigiriya and kottu roti. Sri Lanka is more than that and its about time we stop hacking the same things over and over again. This is where local travel writers would add value. Promote these different experiences through an official blog. Connect the existing platforms like the ones I’ve mentioned here to SLTDA.

The intriguing content followed by a convenient option travel option right from the comfort of your phone or computer, is sellable to pretty much anyone. But no, we’re too busy showcasing the campaign at conferences.

At the end of the day

It’s true that tech has indeed changed things for us for the better. Even in Sri Lanka where things seem to move at a snail’s pace, if at all, there are lot of things that has made things easier for us. Funny how we’ve grown to be unappreciative of the little comforts technology has given us.

But at the same time, we have a long way to go if we’re to leverage tech properly. Particularly for a promising industry like travel and tourism. But what do I know, I’m just a tech writer.

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