Getting even with revenge travel

 

Dubai - Travellers taking vacations in retaliation to the drudgery brought on by extended lockdowns.

By Anjaly Thomas

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Published: Sat 7 Aug 2021, 9:33 AM

There was a time when time was limited and there was much to see, I’d descend on a city with a vengeance, determined to see everything, too fast, too soon. Then, as an incentive to get over that fatigue, I’d travel again. It was that easy. Those were the days my friends…

Now that rush and yearning to get to a new place is a trending hashtag called #revengetourism. I am a week shy of embarking on a well-deserved holiday to overcome my lockdown fatigue, and I hope that travellers I bump into will be following safety protocols. The question on the top of my mind is whether I am taking enough precautions — besides, of course, swapping the camaraderie of a hostel for a properly sanitised hotel and travelling after the Eid holiday rush.


The news from some countries is disturbing — like, say, India which has seen some harsh lockdowns, but now hill stations, beaches and forest retreats are flooded with tourists trying to make up for lost time. Countries like Georgia and Armenia are welcoming tourists with open arms, and experts are worried about the rising R-factor, a measure that indicates the speed of infection — in this case Covid-19, a direct outcome of revenge travel.

Revenge travel might sound slightly heavy handed, but it covers the ground. One can’t help but accept that after being incarcerated for over a year, travellers the world over are taking vacations in retaliation to the drudgery brought on by extended lockdowns. A sense of urgency prevails because who can say with any certainty that there will be a flight or an open border waiting to greet us tomorrow?


Travel. But responsibly

Dubai-based business owner of Al Thika Packaging Tim Ansell, currently holidaying in Zanzibar, decided to ‘break free’ like Zanzibar icon Freddie Mercury famous crooned, because a break was much needed after spending a stressful Covid period. “Running a business under Covid conditions has been incredibly stressful. With no access to our large markets in Saudi, Kuwait or Oman, being unable to travel to Europe to meet suppliers, customers delaying contracts due to uncertainty and several staff infected with Covid over the last 18 months (mercifully, they came through unscathed) — my mental reserves were at an all-time low. So, this break is, I believed, well-deserved.”

Ansell adds that not being able to return home to the UK for so long was the clincher. Therefore, when the situation improved, they decided to wing it, with all precautions in place. “Zanzibar was carefully selected for various reasons. Topping that list was, of course, a long-held desire [to visit] followed by a relaxing beach holiday. We are fully vaccinated too, and Zanzibar has had a low Covid outbreak. All things considered, one deserves a break, but it pays to bear in mind there is still a pandemic out there, so caution is essential.”

New Delhi-based travel blogger and outreach specialist Jyotsna 
Ramani, who earlier spent eight months of the year travelling for work and leisure, prefers to stay closer home now. To her, being responsible is more important than “unleashing” herself on the holiday destinations with a vengeance. All things considered, she says, while there is a temptation to get out of home and hit the road again, the best alternative is taking shorter breaks closer home and to less touristy places. She considers that, as a traveller, it is her duty to spread awareness of the pandemic (although abating) while also behaving responsibly.

“Prevention is always the best policy,” she says. “I take short breaks whenever I can, but I prefer to drive myself, in my own car. That way there is little or no contact with other people. I also carry my own bedding and am very strict with sanitising and wearing masks and not socialising. At the end of it, my safety and that of my family is my responsibility.” Jyotsna says that while you cannot avoid travel, there are plenty of ways you can do so safely. “That is what will ultimately help contain the situation.”

Keeping the guard up is essential

Lately, India is seeing a low rate of infection, a positive outcome of the prolonged lockdown, but throngs of people at beaches and hill stations might signal another outbreak, says New Delhi-based Suchithra Seetharaman, senior correspondent at a news channel. She has been continually reporting on this trend. She agrees that revenge tourism might benefit the locals because their livelihood depends on tourists and travellers, but they are alarmed at the sudden surge in crowds, many of who flout Covid norms without a care. “The locals fear getting infected and want tourists to be more responsible,” she says.

“Earlier, local administrations issued warnings and required mandatory negative PCR report for entry into certain places, but that was eased when the number of infections reduced. Sadly, people also stopped being cautious. The government is doing all it can, but it is every individual’s responsibility to follow the rules.”

Suchithra explains how this off-hand and careless trend of revenge travel can trigger a third wave. She puts it in perspective thus: “This pandemic is like a Netflix series, not a silver screen movie. It doesn’t end with one episode. The sooner we understand it, the better for all.”

“People tend to ignore Covid-appropriate behaviour. It’s understandable, this need for a change after being cooped up for over a year, but it is important to accept it as our new normal for some time to come. Nobody is against travel or going out. Every individual needs to understand that restrictions are in place for a reason. Without individual cooperation, every effort by the authorities will be in vain.”

Svetlana Baghawan, a travel blogger based in Cologne (Germany), is considering a quick break to Aix-en-Provence in the south of France in the coming few weeks. Her visit is family-related although she hopes to combine it with leisure as she has been stuck at home since last January. “Right now, EU citizens can move around the Schengen area without quarantine and that’s the reason I am planning to visit now,” she clarifies. “I have chosen to travel in my own vehicle and stay with family. That way, there is minimal contact with outsiders and strangers. As an extra-safety precaution, I will register myself in the Luca app in France and follow the local mask guidelines. The situation in Europe is now quite relaxed but I am not taking any chances. No dining out or socialising for me.”

Svetlana believes that the world has not yet seen the worst of the pandemic, given the virus’s tendency to mutate and create deadly variants rapidly. In this scenario, she doesn’t think it safe to travel, especially to places where safety measures are lax. “In my opinion, travelling for leisure’s sake is not a responsible thing to do right now. I know it is a hard choice because one entire industry is dependent on it. Long-term travel will be made possible only with stringent safety measures, vaccination and individual responsibility. The touch-and-go mass tourism is a big no-no.”

Preparation and prevention

Having spent the last 16 months renovating, retraining and upgrading services at Plantation Villa nature retreat in Sri Lanka, founder Ishara De Silva is all for welcoming tourists back. Explaining the various measures they have adopted, she says being a health and wellness resort, safety of guests is priority. “We can only accommodate a certain number of guests at a time, and our facilities are spaced out in a way that ensures safe social distancing, as required by regulators. We are among a handful of operators with government certification for adherence to the highest Covid-19 safety measures. We also offer guests airport pick-up, ensuring their in-country journey to us is safe, quick and comfortable.”

Ishara is looking forward to welcoming fully-vaccinated guests and is hopeful that resumption of travel between UAE and Sri Lanka will prove fruitful. “People in the tourism industry are wiser now, having had the experience of this pandemic. If we all take the necessary precautions, there shouldn’t be anything to worry about,” she adds.

Leading the global change

Taking an optimistic view of the current rise in travel, Dubai-based Vinayak Mahtani, CEO of BnBme Holiday Homes, says they have been preparing for this moment for the last couple of months and do not see the rising demand as any cause of threat, considering the excellent prevention system in place in the UAE. “From PCR tests on arrival to proof of vaccinations, we are well covered, particularly for residents staying with us. We are not too worried about international travellers because we have faith in the system Dubai implements.”

Mahtani doesn’t think that travel must stop, it can be done, he asserts with adequate precaution. “Europe, particularly Greece, Spain and Italy, are filled with tourists right now and, after summer, Dubai is going to see a spike when countries like India, the UK and Saudi open up. In fact, I’d say that Dubai is the safest haven from Covid-19.”

Dubai-based destination management company Turning Point is all ready for the tourism upswing. Ali Hussain, managing director, claims that fear of over-tourism or revenge tourism is applicable to destinations that have not prepared themselves to curtail the spread of the virus. “As far as the UAE is concerned, the government has done a fantastic job in managing the pandemic and was among world’s first to open up for tourism. Dubai is prepared for tourism in all aspects.” Although destination weddings, for which Dubai is famous for, did take a hit, Hussain is confident that it will bounce back to normal soon. Highlighting the safety measures in place by the authorities, he adds that the Ministry of Health and Prevention (MoHAP) along with other relevant authorities continue to prioritise, monitor and assure the safety and well-being of all visitors.

According to him, 2020 had an adverse effect on tourism, hospitality and the aviation industry in general. The World Travel & Tourism Council estimates that the tourism sector lost nearly $4.5 trillion and 62 million jobs last year. Airlines alone lost $126 billion last year and are on track to lose another $48 billion this year, according to their largest trade group.

“Right now, we are seeing an influx of tourists from across the world to the UAE considering it is one of the countries that is leading a near-normal life. Even with the limited airlines operating, we have seen a great influx as we are getting closer to the tourist season as well as the beginning of Expo 2020 and T20 World Cup events happening in the UAE.”

We all live in hope...

We have faced the trauma of being stuck indoors, hoping fervently that the skies and borders would open and allow normal travel once more. Living in the UAE currently is almost near normal because the health authorities have ticked all the right boxes and people arriving in the country feel safe.

There are, of course, two sides to the story. While one considers revenge tourism a means to boost sagging economies, another perceives it as a threat of a fresh outbreak. A double-edged sword if I have seen one. With vaccination drives ramping up across the world, there is hope for international travel to return to normalcy.

The UAE has been a shining example of all global initiatives to battle Covid-19 while retaining the top place as the most preferred destination to be right now. And residents are once again feeling optimistic about packing their bags.

A sense of wanderlust is building all around.

Freddy Mercury might sum up Ansell’s holiday in Zanzibar, but I have John Denver on my mind.

After long last, I can finally sing that song again — with due apologies to him. “For my bags are packed and I am ready to go, packed with masks, sanitisers and so much more…”

(Anjaly is an author and travel writer based in Dubai. 
She tweets @ThomasAnjaly and her Insta handle is @travelwithanjaly.)

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