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Home » Columns » TRAINS & BOATS & PLANES

TRAINS & BOATS & PLANES

Publishing Date : 06 July, 2017

Stuart White
The World in Black-N-White
 

Imagine you work in, or own a business related to, the tourism industry; now imagine that  overnight, the industry was crippled and your income cut to a fraction of its previous level, leaving your employer or you as the employer struggling to pay wages, rent, mortgages and all fixed monthly expenditure; low-income staff or self-employed might not even be able to put food on the table, much less buy any luxury goods, so the virtual shutdown would start having a knock-on effect in other sectors, such as retail; building projects would have to be halted, left in abeyance; and for how long is anybody’s guess – this issue  might not be resolved any time soon.

 

Think that scenario is a little far-fetched?  Well it actually happened in mid-June in the Gulf state of Qatar when neighbouring Arab states suddenly and without warning, cut off diplomatic ties with her and imposed a total ban on the national airline flying into their countries, as well as stopping their own national carriers landing within Qatari borders: And whilst Qatar is not a particularly attractive tourist destination, despite its coastline on the Arabian Gulf, in the past decade or so, it has striven to make itself a conference and business destination of choice, modelling itself on the success of neighbouring Dubai and even setting up a government body tasked with overseeing the hotel and conferencing market.

 

Not all was lost.  Qatar, being the world’s third-largest oil and gas producer, is one of the richest of the Gulf States and its population one of the wealthiest so financially, they were well-placed to weather the storm; and the national carrier, Qatar Air, has invested in a long-haul jet fleet which flies to several major capitals of the world so only regional and not overseas inbound and outbound travel was affected. 


In fact, in a curious display of co-operation, only this week the Empire State Building in New York was lit up in the airline’s colours to celebrate 10 years of its having flown into the Big Apple.   And since most of the conferencing business would have come not from the Gulf but from all over the globe, the situation for the Qatar tourism trade might not have been so catastrophic as it first appeared.

 

The mini-crisis did point up one important fact about the travel and tourism industry which is its quasi-symbiotic, quasi-piggybacking nature of this massive, global business, involving a myriad different sectors and suppliers.  It might start with the travel providers themselves – the airlines, of course, but also rail companies, shipping operations, bus and coach operators, taxi drivers,  car-hire companies,  even rickshaw pullers, all involved in the intricate, worldwide ballet of the travelling public, from the time they leave their own home to the time they return, covering all points in-between; domestic travel and transfers, international legs, ex-airport transfers and travel in and around the destination.

 

Then there are the travel agents, tour operators, both physical and virtual, who arrange the actual travel and transfers; the hotels, lodges, guest-houses, campsites, caravans and B & Bs travellers stay in whilst away from home; the catering establishments they frequent, from hotel and private restaurants, small cafés & bistros, street food vendors and snack bars; the craft artists who make their livings from producing local souvenirs and the curio shops and sellers who purvey these items, the local retail businesses that benefit from the upsurge in trade;


the operators of local tourist attractions, built and natural, historical and modern, cultural and adventure, classy or crass; each and every employee in these direct and indirect travel and tourism industries whose livelihood depends on someone leaving home for a few days or weeks, be it for pleasure or business; and what of the event companies who make things happen, be it a small conference, a major rock concert or a massive, global sporting event and local farmers and food suppliers, artisans and other service providers supplying and servicing each and every guest facility?

 

The trade has another important knock-on effect too.  When a tourist attraction opens up, be it a built venue such as a theme park, a cultural or historic site newly-discovered or opened to the public or a park for the observation of local flora and fauna, there is inevitably either government or private input to improve local infrastructure – new or improved roads and bridges, airport expansions, electricity grids and water supplies which in turn then requires additional housing  for staff, schools for their children, shops to serve them, banking facilities and all the other trappings necessary when a new community springs up.

 

Looked at realistically, travel and tourism is probably the world’s biggest employer, albeit not a single body but thousands upon thousands of large, medium, small and single-person operations,  upon whom the modern tourist  relies for a seamless travel experience with any and all of the extras they might require or be able to afford.

 

So whilst the Qatari ban will only be making a small dent in their business traveller trade, spare a thought for other places which have been more dramatically effected – the 2004  tsunami in the Indian Ocean, for example which not only tragically killed so many people but it devastated infrastructure, left towns and villages in ruins, left survivors literally trying to pick up the pieces and even long after, kept many worried, would-be tourists away.  More recently terrorist incidents in some of Egypt’s popular tourist spots, as well as Tunisia and of course now even mainland Europe, have all comparably affected the leisure travel trade.

 

Botswana, as a nation, also relies heavily on the tourist trade for income and employment and it’s perhaps only by the grace of god and the forces of nature that our own crippling drought was finally relieved earlier this year, saving wildlife and along with it,  the jobs of many.  For a while at least, our home-grown tourism industry is safe:  And if you think that doesn’t include you or your business, you might just be surprised.

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