ZAMBIA Tourism Agency (ZTA) chief executive officer Felix Chaila says the second wave of the Coronavirus has hit the tourism industry hard due to a drastic drop in the number of foreign tourists because of travel restrictions.

In an interview, Chaila, however, said the tourism industry was expecting the much-anticipated COVID-19 vaccine to cushion the negative impact that the pandemic had on the sector.

“No one has been in these shoes before, so there are a lot of interactions regionally and internationally to kind of look at the best practices and to see how we can travel back quickly. But it is not going to be done in a rush, especially because in Zambia, cases keep going up. So, the best hope for now is the vaccine; the vaccine will be the biggest protection for the travelling public,” Chaila said.

“But then again, it’s very difficult to project something you have never used. But our expectation is that when those vaccinations arrive in the country, when that level of vaccination is achieved, it should be matched with information, which is available for those potential travellers at international-level so they feel secure when traveling to Zambia.”

He said that challenges being experienced in some countries, Zambia inclusive, clearly indicated the importance of the travel industry as most economies were on their knees.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has affected mostly the global travel industry and the effects of this show a good mirror. At the moment, it’s a very good indicator of the significance of our travel industry as the tourism industry. As you can see, it’s not just the Zambian economy, all the economies are really flattened; they declined because people are not travelling and, therefore, the travel industry should be taken as a serious industry that greatly contributes to the growth of the economy,” Chaila said.

“The challenges of travel, the restrictions of safe travels, the requirements and the risk associated with getting on the plane has dried up the international traffic forcing the industry to focus and promote domestic tourism in the absence of international tourism.”

He stressed that unless safe travel was assured, people should refrain from travelling.

“It is very important, again, that we focus on domestic markets. But unless there is safe travel, people should not travel. Unless there is safe travel, there should be no travelling because life is more important than achieving numbers. So, during the wake of the pandemic, the Zambia Tourism Agency and, indeed, the Ministry of Tourism, is focusing on creating an environment where there is safe travel for the tourism sector. Therefore, we have created safety protocols, we have created protocols to be followed by tourists or travellers, safety protocols against COVID-19 and also protocols to be followed by employers to protect their employees,” said Chaila, who also expressed optimism that the tourism industry would recover after vaccinations were rolled out by the Ministry of Health.

“We advise the domestic markets to look out for facilities that have implemented safe travel protocols before travelling; this includes looking out for destinations that have acquired a safe travel stamp from ZTA because that gives you assurance that your destination is operating in line the set COVID-19 guidelines.”