Why the staycation mantra could be a saving grace to the COVID-19 hit local tourism industry

A combination of factors – mostly the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions on travel, partially an increase in hotel room costs – has led to a rise in staycations. While the term ‘staycation’ only gained prominence in 2020 owing to the pandemic, the word has been around, though mostly in tour and travel circles.

Staycation, as the name suggests is a stay and a vacation, which is a vacation done while staying at home – it is also known as a holistay. In this concept, any individual or family participates in holiday activities within localities, while staying at home and sleeping in their beds at night. The Staycation concept was globally recognised during the financial crisis that hit the United States during the period 2007– 2010. The concept was carried forward by the UK and many western European countries that also got hit by the financial crisis. Soon after, marketers in the tour and travel industry took on the term in their marketing strategies to lure back cash-strapped travellers. And now, with the COVID-19 virus still at bay, the term may be here to stay.

‘Staycation’ in the new normal According to the World Tourism Organization, international travel declined by 22 percent in the first quarter of 2020, with March alone seeing a 57 percent decrease. This led to a loss of US$80 billion across the sector. Projections for the rest of 2020 put the decline in international travel at between 58 and 78 percent. Although the international travel industry will take time to recover, the fact of the matter remains that people are desperate to get out and about. With the majority of the world now experiencing less-strict levels of lockdown, this has opened up possibilities for people to travel within their own countries. Domestic travel is now on the rise, as although international borders may be closed, people are fast finding there’s plenty to explore in their backyard. While staycation traditionally means a holiday spent at home, nowadays the definition has been broadened to include staying near where you live, or in a resort, or town a couple of hours away.

Many people are fast discovering the benefits of a staycation, and just some of the perks a local holiday have to offer include: Research by booking sites like Expedia and Hoo found that the level of staycations being taken across 16 global holiday hotspots in the world has increased by an average of 18 percent when compared to this time last year. Benefits to the local economy Due to COVID-19, holidaymakers seem to have embraced the idea of swapping Durban and Cape Town to Samfya and Siavonga, with staycations seen as an easier, safer option than travelling abroad during the pandemic. Every industry, sector and the individual has been negatively affected by COVID-19 one way or another. The hospitality, travel, and tourism sectors have been some of the hardest hit, and in some cases are still not able to fully operate. Domestic travel directly supports local businesses and helping them get back on their feet. From hotels to restaurants, lodges, and local tourist attractions, everyone will benefit when you travel domestically.

These entities may previously have relied almost solely on international visitors, but now, locals will be their main source of income. Zambia’s tourism sector during COVID Zambia’s travel and tourism industry, which has shown signs of healthy growth in recent years, has been impacted significantly by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to data from the Central Statistical Office, in 2019, the industry contributed 7 percent of GDP (US$1,701 million) and 7.2 percent of total employment (469,000). International visitors spent US$ 849 million, representing 10 percent of Zambia’s total exports. Minister of Tourism and Arts Ronald Chitotela said an assessment of the impact of the pandemic revealed that about US$400 million may be lost in both service and non-service sub-sectors in the sector due to cancellation of travels as well as the closure of hotels. Since travel restrictions entered into force in March 2020, Zambia’s flow of international arrivals has dwindled. Many Zambian tour operators, hotel and restaurant owners, convention and festival organisers and sports event sponsors are facing very difficult times.

COVID-19 is a real threat to Zambia’s tourism sector and there is a high risk that many firms will shut down and disappear, undermining any ultimate economic recovery when international travel resumes. To mitigate this, the government agreed to suspend Value Addition Tax (VAT) for hotels for at least two years in an effort to revive the industry. To replace some of the revenue lost as international visitors stay away, the local tourism industry and the government have focused their attention on building a domestic tourism market. ‘Explore Zambia’ For many people, the feeling of being close to home is a safe one, and during the pandemic, safety has been a major concern. As the shift from international to domestic travel grows, people will invest more time and effort in exploring their immediate surroundings as they feel more secure. Zambia has many untapped and unexplored attractions scattered throughout the country; from the Liuwa Game Reserve in Western Province to the Kalene Hills in North Western Province, and from the waterfalls in Kawambwa to the Gwisho hot springs in Lochinvar – yes, Zambia has a lot of unexplored beauty. In most towns and cities there are numerous attractions that locals see all the time, but don’t explore.

Now, these attractions will get local attention – and local revenue. This will also encourage ongoing economic growth as many people will become repeat visitors of places they had previously not even have considered visiting. A new trend that’s here to stay It’s safe to say that amidst the pandemic, travelling habits are changing. There is no telling how long international travel restrictions will be in place, and when the travel industry will return to normal. However, it is safe to say that for the next few months at least, domestic travel will be experiencing rapid growth. Whereas people previously would have flown internationally, their focus now will be on destinations they can drive to, without the risk of border closures. Fortunately, there are benefits to this, and instead of seeing it as a downside, it can be thought of as a positive. Travelling domestically boosts the local economy, and that’s something desperately needed right now.

Written by Joseph