Covid has stopped us travelling and holidaying for many months over the last two years, but whenever lockdowns were eased, we have been able to travel domestically and overtourism has been a problem in some European destinations. Domestic tourism has been hit hard, but not as hard as our outbound industry and the destinations reliant almost entirely on international arrivals. The Gambia and Swaziland, where I am writing this, are two such destinations. There has been no financial support from government and very little domestic travel, the industry closed during lockdowns. The sector’s labour force looked to other activities, often in subsistence agriculture, or relied on their extended family for support. Those businesses without debt to service fared better, many simply locked up their business, it is there to reopen when the tourists return. Throughout southern Africa, the borders are now open to those with proof of vaccination or a negative PCR test not more than 72 hours old. Tourism is beginning again.
Covid has hit travel and tourism hard in Europe, with large losses and business failures. Despite some government support for the sector, there have been wide scale dismissals and layoffs, many former employees have found work in other sectors and are not returning. In the UK and elsewhere, there has been a significant increase in wage rates and even in aviation there are shortages of cabin crew lading to flight cancellations as Easter approaches.
But spare a thought for those in destinations with little or no domestic tourism.
The Gambia in West Africa closed it borders for nearly a year to keep Covid out. Adama Bah discusses how the people fared. It is clear that with remittances from the Gambian diaspora amounting to nearly 60% of GDP during the Covid lockdowns and a strong sense of responsibility for the welfare of all within the family The Gambia has proved very resilient. Tourism is 20% of the economy in normal times, closing their borders to fend off Covid cost the country dear. The Gambia survived and recovered from the coup and travel bans in 1994, Ebola in West Africa in 2014 and most recently Covid.
13% of the population are now fully vaccinated and they have not yet passed 365 deaths. The Gambia has reopened for tourism with 30% occupancy. But most of those coming are repeat visitors which means that they do not spend much on craft.
The Gambia is a culturally and socially rich country despite the low level of income per head. Resilience in The Gambia is based on the closely knit family and the extended family system. Everyone is their others brothers’ and sisters’ keeper and that obligation continues with the diaspora, the émigrés are expected to contribute to their immediate and extended family.
Swaziland, Eswatini as it is now known, is socially and culturally rich too but without the ethnic diversity of The Gambia with its ten distinct ethnic groups. Swaziland is landlocked by South Africa and Mozambique making it an attractive drive in destination. Swazi culture is strong and distinct and its mountainous landscapes are stunning.
Eswatini has launched a major domestic tourism campaign listing seven reasons why Swazis should travel in their own country – they apply in Europe too.
1. It will open your mind to new experiences
2. Interactions with the locals are more meaningful
3. You will learn more about the history of your own country
4. Your will become more flexible – you don’t need to plan your trip as rigidly as you do abroad.
5. It will let you see your country from outside your bubble
6. It will help support the local economy
7. You will save money
In the wake of yesterday’s IPCC report one might add that you will burn less carbon too.