Tourism is a sector that drives the economies of many middle to lower income countries, essentially raking in a significant portion of their GDPs. It allows countries to diversify their income and export earnings while creating opportunities for marginalised populations as tourism tends to employ a higher percentage of women and youth.
Additionally, tourism accelerates investment into auxiliary services and industries like transportation, entertainment and finance which create even more jobs and economic opportunities. The point is tourism can lend itself to some good old development.
In Zambia, the industry is not quite there yet despite being home to one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, The Victoria Falls, locally known as Mosi-oa-tunya – the smoke that thunders. Not to say that there aren’t other amazing places to visit, from the 17 other waterfalls to going on safaris in the national parks or maybe going fishing on the Kafue river. Perhaps go hiking in the Lower Zambezi, you’ll definitely get those steps in.
The covid effect
Covid did a number on the global tourism industry slashing its contribution to global GDP by almost 50%with many hotspots not seeing the usual traffic they became accustomed to. Since the pandemic hit, many travellers decided to forgo their trips to the Balkans or the Maldives, postponing their relaxing leisure retreats for their health security. On the flipside, the economies of the tourism supported countries were feeling the pinch of a breadwinning sector struggling with no real understanding of how long this was supposed to last.
Infographic showing the drastic decline in the Tourism sector. Source: World Travel & Tourism Council
In Zambia, the budding tourism industry contributing 7% of the country’s GDP and international tourists accounting 10% of its total exports in 2019 suddenly ground to a halt with virtually no international visitors coming through from March 2020. This was a result of the travel restrictions and the logistical pickle of not being able to get a direct flight from overseas to Zambia. In Sven’s blog on Post Pandemic Winners and Losers, he mentioned the hassle of just trying to get to Zambia from abroad when the pandemic hit. It makes even less sense to go through this for a short visit and then again to head back home, and let’s not forget the quarantine periods that need factoring in.
The travel restrictions highlighted the dependence on international tourists to keep the sector alive or rather the need to look inward and breathe some life into local tourism. While international visitors bring in some much needed forex and allow establishments to price their products and services in dollars, it doesn’t really help much when they aren’t visiting. The dollar pricing makes it inaccessible to locals whose disposable income is continually reducing as the Kwacha to Dollar rate grows.
In December 2020 the Zambian government announced a suspension of VAT for at least two years in an effort to alleviate the pressure on the hotel industry. With investment incentives and general eagerness to work with the private sector, the reality of diverted investment into more urgent areas such as the health sector is ever more real to the tourism industry. And to be frank, the blow to the tourism industry does not inspire much confidence. But that’s not to say that opportunity does not exist. Au contraire, a new market has been forced forward.
As borders cautiously reopen, travellers’ need for safe and hygienic facilities will most likely linger as a necessary keepsake from the experience of this pandemic. With international visits, travellers may be more willing to pay more to reduce their potential exposure to Covid. This brings more secluded or remote destinations into the forefront as places where it’s easier to maintain social distance practices.
Group travel, while a good way to meet new people and be cost efficient, requires travellers to rely on each other to maintain safe practices even before they meet on the trip. These will likely be less en vogue, favouring smaller groups with more intimate knowledge of and trust for each other. There’s also something to be said for transportation in all this. Within destination countries, travellers may be keener on using private or premium transport as a safer alternative to the more public options.
Local tourism has to be a part of the equation for tourism to keep the industry afloat. This might not necessarily be the historical sites that most international travellers tend to seek. There is an opportunity here for creative entrepreneurs to capitalise on the local experience for locals. One example of this that comes to mind is Mwaba Mwila Adventures who offer guided hiking tours for the adventurous traveller.
Finally, as there are increasingly more people getting vaccinated, mostly in the higher income countries, there is now quite the buzz surrounding the potential for Covid “passports”, which are basically digital health passes to show that you have been vaccinated, with the intention of allowing the holder to move more freely. Jury is still out on this one, with the conversation revolving around scientific and technical challenges such as durability of immunity provided by the vaccine, emergence of variant strains that were not present in the clinical trials and inequities based on access to particular vaccines that would be approved for the passports.
The only thing that is certain at this point is the uncertainty that we’re all facing with all the moving parts. Questions of when and how policies, business models and practices and norms will shift can be estimated at best. This is not a developed vs under developed country issue. It affects us all and we’ll have to all think on our feet to build back better and stronger. If Covid has shown us anything, it’s that everything is connected and the whole really is greater than the sum of its parts.
 https://wttc.org/Research/Economic-Impact  https://www.insider.com/coronavirus-before-after-photos-famous-attractions-empty-2020-3  https://diggers.news/local/2020/12/03/govt-suspends-vat-on-hotels-for-2-years/  https://mwilaadventure.com