Revolutionising the hospitality industry : Ishantha Ratnayake

By Mahika Panditha

Sri Lanka is world-renowned for its luscious jungles, sunny and sandy beaches, and up-in-the-cloud mountaintops. Ever since the end of the war, tourism in Sri Lanka has had a rapid growth rate in both domestic and international tourist travels. However, after the Easter Sunday attacks last year, the industry suffered a loss in tourism revenue. That was not going to stop us – the industry was quickly recovering, attracting 1.9 million tourists by the end of 2019. Yet again, with this new pandemic that has clouded the entire world, the industry came to a standstill. It shocked the world as much as the hospitality industry. With the world under lockdown and Sri Lanka being under lockdown for the past several months, there has been zero revenue from international tourists.

The young and upcoming Ishantha Ratnayake, known as the next Richard Branson, is going to change the face of the hospitality industry in Sri Lanka. Ishantha is the Co-Founder of Twister SL, Sri Lanka’s very own Turkish cuisine franchise, and is currently consulting on several hospitality projects around the country as well as working on his own company which is bound to revolutionise the hospitality industry. 

“We are lacking a lot in terms of standard service, and the basics that need to be catered to properly,” Ishantha commented.

Ishantha studied at Taylor’s University in Malaysia and received a dual degree in International Hospitality Management from Taylor’s University and Université Toulouse – Jean Jaurès, France. He had the amazing opportunity to represent his university in Amsterdam as an exchange student, where he was a part of the “Hotel Takeover”. A group of students took over a whole hotel and ran all the operations. Ishantha was appointed the first International General Manager out of 80-plus students from all over the world. Apart from this, Ishantha was also the Student Resident Council President for two years at Taylor’s University, where he overlooked several departments and several students. 

He was also the Chief Fire Marshall of Taylor’s Hostel Management, which overlooked thousands of students in the residence. Further to this, he was appointed by his university for the Steller’s Rising Star Award, which is a European Hoteliers Award. After completing his degree, Ishantha travelled to Japan and worked at one of the best ski resorts in the world, to which people from all over the globe come to visit. Apart from this, Ishantha is currently planning to continue to pursue a diploma in digital marketing.

“I have always had the knack to solve problems and create solutions. I always think outside the box for anything; I’ve had that quality since my younger days. In terms of hospitality, I think there is so much more potential for Sri Lanka to be on the map globally. We can do better, and I want to fix that,” Ishantha shared with Happinez, speaking about his passions and goals. Other than working on his many hospitality projects, he also occasionally plays the guitar, piano, and drums when he has free time to enjoy music, be it jazz or anything else.

When asked what his inspiration was to get into the hospitality industry and where it came from, he replied: “I’m quite patriotic, I love my country. Sri Lanka has so much to offer from world heritage sites and lovely beaches to tea estates and the picturesque landscapes. It hasn’t been marketed properly around the world; we need to step up our game. My aim is to put Sri Lanka on the map by creating new avenues through which travellers can enjoy the best of Sri Lanka’s amazing hospitality. The hospitality industry is one of the biggest industries in the world – we can contribute to that in so many ways.”

His goal is to give Sri Lanka a fantastic name for tourism and hospitality – an even better one than it has now. However, he said that he doesn’t have goals because “I would miss out on opportunities by focusing solely on my goals”.

We went on to discuss the many aspects of the hospitality industry in Sri Lanka. “As I said, there is so much room for growth. There is so much potential. It is all about marketing Sri Lanka and putting it out there. However, I must say that from the service side, the standard is quite poor. In certain places, the staff are not trained well. Staff empowerment is not present and they work under fear. That has to change. It ends up discouraging the employees, which then further reflects on the services they give to the customers.

“I understand that there are protocols to be followed, but there are simple fixes that can be done just through empowerment. The frontline staff are the most important people in a hotel. At the end of the day, the customers interact with the frontline staff. They need to be empowered as they represent the brand and the hotel. It is important that they are trained and valued properly. We have around two million tourists coming in every year, which goes up every year. We have to give them more reasons to come back, to bring more people in to see what our beautiful country has to offer.”

Even though our country does hold the tourism industry as one of the biggest revenue generators along with the apparel and tea industries, it was hit the hardest with the Covid-19 outbreak. Speaking on how to navigate through the new normal in the industry, Ishantha stated that this would be the time for boutique hotels to shine. He said that travellers would rather stay in smaller and more controlled environments now, making it the time for boutique hotels to shine and make use of this opportunity, as is going to be comparatively tough for bigger hotels to stick to all the health guidelines, etc.

Ishantha holds an astounding work ethic at such a young age; he is definitely an inspiration for many. With that being observed, he said: “I don’t really know how to describe it, but I do like to critically think about everything. I am the type of person to pay attention to every little detail, and yes, I am a perfectionist. It’s not about doing your 100%. It is about going above that by giving it your all and performing to the best of your abilities. You have to put your heart and soul into whatever you do, especially if you are passionate about it. Of course, there are bad days, but never cut yourself any slack. Do the best you can. That does not mean you shouldn’t take breaks. Take breaks and make sure it’s a break, so that when you are working, you can give it your all.”

Ishantha truly is a hard worker and is a growing hospitality mogul. Sri Lanka has all the necessities to be a worldwide sensation, and Ishantha agreed. With that being said, he is definitely one to watch because he is going to change the face of the industry.