The Problem with Resorts

A part of our honeymoon not so long ago was spent at the Taj Exotica in Bentota, Sri Lanka. We stayed there for a bit over a day and a half, and that was supposed to be the most “honeymoony” part of our honeymoon, with the rest of the time being spent essentially roaming and seeing different things in different parts of Sri Lanka. Before we went, I thought I’d set aside very little time for this “honeymoony place” but in the final analysis it turned out I’d allocated the optimum time for it.

So as we sit down to plan for a mid-year vacation, here are some of the problems that we found with resorts – which make us skeptical about spending an entire vacation in a resort kind of place. All this is based on a single data point – our recent visit to Bentota:

  • Food: We got bored of the food in less than a day. I’m vegetarian, which ruled out the seafood restaurants at the resort. Room service menu was extremely limited and one meal bored us of the buffet. We ended up eating consecutive dinners at the same Chinese restaurant at the resort which shows how bored we were of the food
  • Lack of buzz: We went to the bar to grab a quick drink on the way to dinner, and there were hardly any people there. There was no life there and it was too quiet for our liking. Then, on the way back from dinner we thought we’ll hit the disc, and found we were the only people there. A complete put off
  • On the other hand, when we went to the pool for a swim, it turned out there were way too many people there. There were some large gangs of tourists, and they made quite a noise, which wasn’t all that fun. Yeah, I know I’m cribbing about two contradictory things here, but that’s the way it is.
  • Adding to the contradiction, a private beach and all is ¬†quite fine but again it’s boring to go there when there is little activity there. Yeah there were a few people there but there was something about the place which bored us quickly enough for us to return.
  • General lack of activity: Yeah, I know that the purpose of going to a resort is to just chill but after a while the lack of activity can get a bit disconcerting, and makes you want to get away.

But in general, the biggest problem was the food. If you aren’t really fond of buffets, and there are no good options near the resort, you are likely to tire of the food quite quickly, which can be a big pain. At least if you were to get authentic local food you could manage. But sanitized 5-star buffets for over a day? Thanks

Teaching Sustainability

So I was at an aunt’s place last night to celebrate Diwali, and we were celebrating with fireworks. Don’t raise a stink about my carbon footprint here since that’s besides the point. Also besides the point is that I spent a long time playing on the swing in my aunt’s house and thoroughly enjoyed himself.

So the deal is that most “night fireworks” are lit with sparklers (sursurbatti in Kannada). So in order to keep the fireworks going, it is important that there is at least one burning sparkler at any point in time. Now, it is a big pain to light a sparkler directly, using something like a matchstick or a candle. The easiest way to light a sparkler is from another sparkler. I’m reminded of the technical definition of a chain-smoker, who is defined as a smoker who uses only one matchstick a day – the rest of his cigarettes being lit from other cigarettes.

Anyways the point is that in order to light fireworks “sustainably” it’s important to keep a chain of sparklers going. It is important that before a sparkler burns out, you use it to light another, and so forth. That way you end up wasting little time in terms of lighting new sparklers from candles. So it is usually the duty of an “elder” (a role that I took upon myself last night) to keep the chain of sparklers going, so that the rest can have uninterrupted fun.

So what I found last night was that my niece and nephew, in their eagerness to play with fireworks, would end up taking sparklers from my hand faster than I could build the chain. It happened way too frequently. I would have just lit a sparkler when they would take it from my hands and not return it, thus preventing me from keeping the chain going. Clearly, they didn’t know how to light fireworks “sustainably”. They prioritized immediate gain to the “loss” in terms of time wasted in lighting new sparklers.

So it was down to incentives. Whenever the chain of sparklers was broken, it was up to either me or one of my cousins to make the effort to light a new sparkler “from scratch” and start a new chain. The kids weren’t involved in this, and were oblivious of the pain that their unsustainable practices caused. And got me thinking about how I could “safely” align the kids’ incentives with sustainability.

Soon the lamps in the garden ran out of oil, and that changed the whole ball game. Now, every time the chain got broken, someone had to go into the house to light a new sparkler and restart the chain. And being one of the younger ones around, it fell to my niece to go in each time the chain was broken and get her mother to light a sparkler. The incentives had changed.

Suddenly there was change in my niece’s behaviour. She suddenly became active in terms of keeping the sparkler chain going. She never took sparklers from me when I didn’t have a spare that would keep the chain going. When she saw sparklers in my hand burning out, she would bring new sparklers to me so that I continued the chain. Her change in behaviour was sudden, and significant. Her brother, who was deemed to be too young to run in to get new sparklers lit to start new chains, however continued in his profligate ways.

So this is like one of those posts that I call as “management guru” posts. Where I tell a long-winded story to describe a simple concept. The concept here being one of sustainability, and aligning incentives. So the point is that if you want to encourage sustainable use of natural resources, users’ interests should be aligned to sustainability. They need to be punished in the short run for drawing too much.