“Mongolia is not a bucket list country for tourists,” said Bilguun, tour manager for Amicus Travel, Mongolia. “It’s never on top of the list. It may be third or fourth.” Similarly, Olly Reston, the director and owner of the country’s Goyo Travel, explained: “Tourists would go there as part of a trip to Russia or China and stop off in Mongolia for three days.”
Professional tours are usually booked six months in advance, but with the world entering its second year of lockdowns, very few people have been optimistic enough to book.
Lower-end tourists have sometimes arrived in Mongolia as part of a rail adventure, through Europe and Russia. “And for them,” said Reston, “it is too risky now to try and travel across 15 nations, in three months, and risk getting trapped somewhere or turned away.”
At the start of 2020, when word arrived of a coronavirus epidemic in neighbouring China, Mongolia became one of the first countries in the world to close schools. On January 31, the country went on to closing its border with China. Public events were cancelled, as were conferences, sports, and entertainment, as well as most businesses. Of course, these restrictions have virtually decimated the tourism sector.
According to Khongorzul Khatanbaatar, CEO of the Extreme Mongolia adventure camp, the Mongolian tourism sector has experienced a 97.6% decrease in revenue. “From 450 tour operators, 300 have stopped operating, and 88,000 people [over 90% of the sector’s work force] have lost their jobs.”
Tourism became one of the few sectors the country that had real hopes of developing, in order to diversify the economy and to provide private-sector employment for Mongolia’s growing number of well-educated, English-speaking youth.
Despite being in a difficult geographic location, the country has done an admirable job of growing its tourism sector over the past 30 years. Narantsetseg Delgersuren, general manager of New Juulchin Tours LLC, reported that before the pandemic, there were 570 tourism firms, with Khuvsgul Lake, one of the country’s largest attractions, boasting 100 tourist camps.
Now, nearly all of those companies are closed down, and most of the workers are unemployed. And, with 55.4% of all companies across the country not operating in the first quarter of 2021, the economy has become even more dependent on mineral exports to China.
At the moment, Mongolia is experiencing more than 2,000 new coronavirus cases per day, so it seems unlikely that the government will reopen the airport any time soon. The international travel season is generally between June and August, because the rest of the year is too cold for most international tourists. Therefore, it seems that for this year, international tourism is not going to be restored. (intellinews)