Readers’ travel scams: The dodgy Sri Lanka ‘hotel worker’
Posted on July 30th, 2019


Travelling the world is the stuff of dreams … until it’s not. Maybe it’s because we’re unfamiliar with local customs in other countries and don’t want to cause offence, or perhaps it’s just damned jetlag rendering us incapable of sensing trouble, but travel scams can happen to the best of us.

As a nation of travellers, we all have a tale of that time we were an unsuspecting tourist.

Here is a tale from a contributor who wanted to remain anonymous.

Getting mugged at Angkor Wat 
Chinese Tea Ceremony scam  
Rome’s classic leather goods scam
India’s “poop on the shoe” scam
The pickpockets of Barcelona
The Paris Metro Ticket scam

I get hit by the full charge for the Tuk Tuk (file photo).
123RFI get hit by the full charge for the Tuk Tuk (file photo).


I was in Sri Lanka for a block of meetings a few years ago and had an afternoon free. I decided to go for a walk from the hotel along the waterfront and look at the old cannons and anything else I could see. 

When you are in meetings for several days, anything outside is better than staying in the hotel.

I had hardly crossed the road when I was approached by a very neatly dressed and extremely polite local who told me that he worked for the hotel I had just left and was I aware of the temple and elephants on display there. To which I said no of course. 

Next, he tells me that he is going that way and he can show me the place, but it had to be today as the temple was not open for the rest of the week. Already I think that this is unnecessary but put it aside in my mind since he worked in the hotel I was staying, or so I thought.

So we start walking toward the central part of the city, and he says it is quite a distance and I might be more comfortable riding on a Tuk Tuk. Before I can say no, he signals one up and I feel obliged to get on. 

By now, my feeling is this is not right, and I am getting wary. After a couple of kilometres, we arrive at a temple, and the Tuk Tuk is asked to wait for us. 

So we go in, and I pay a donation to the temple as entry, but it was only about NZ$2 so not bad. The temple was quite lovely and yes it had an elephant, but I would not have rushed out to see it in reality.

After about 30 minutes we leave, and the Tuk Tuk takes us to an emerald store (ah-ha I go in my head – this is a commission trick to get you into store, and they get a cut of the sale).

The emeralds and other stones were very lovely, and I spent about NZ$100 on a couple of items that I really did not need, but in spite of pushed to buy more, I resisted and made it clear that this was all I was spending. 

The pressure is subtle but strong, and I think it would have been hard to have just walked out or refused to enter.

We travel back to the hotel where I am hit with the full cost of the Tuk Tuk there and back of about NZ$30 – they are clearly working together on this. 

At this point, I am over this and as lovely as the chap was I know that it is purely a scam to extract what they can get out of you. The chap then asked for a contribution for his time at which I point out that he will be getting a commission no doubt on the purchase and probably a cut of the fare and walked quickly back to the hotel much to his annoyance.

Next day I am talking with fellow meeting attendees over coffee and mention this scam and find out that not less than three others had exactly the same experience, although a couple admitted to spending more than I did. 

So the message is just because they look the part and sound the part when you are travelling in this part of the world trust no-one. And no, the chap did not work for the hotel, that was a just ruse to get your trust upfront.

The only plus is I feel I was scammed by one of the best and perhaps smoothest operators that have ever tried one on me.

Stuff Nation

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