What Zanzibar can learn from Thailand

OutriggerThe travel bug properly bit me in 2013. I blame Thailand. The bug has always kind of been there. I’ve always had a travel list. But before I went to Thailand, my travelling wants seemed to be in the same impossible league as my very real wish to attend Hogwarts or fly around with The Doctor.

But I went to Thailand and suddenly going places became possible. It became this thing that I could do for myself if I really tried, even if I don’t always feel like I deserve it.

And guess what? Three years later I am now someone who travels. Ok so I’m not one of those people who only travels, but I reckon managing to be a homeschooling mom of three who only ekes by on a few freelancing gigs every month but still manages to get out there into the world a little bit is still kind of cool. It counts, right?

I digress…

The problem with Thailand is that it works so friggen well that it sets you up for disillusionment. Some might disagree, of course, but for me, Thailand is the best place for an anxious traveller like myself. Everything about Thailand is easy. And when you’re generally a nervous wreck, easy is a godsend.

You see… Thailand has got their travel industry waxed in such a way that I would happily send my kids there without feeling like I needed to worry too much about them getting lost, because I know how easy it is to just be there. From the second you step foot off the plane everything just works. And yes, it may be sort of inauthentic (I can hear you “real” travellers judging me from over there) but it is an experience none-the-less. Inauthentic or not. It works.

And here’s the big thing for me: When you’re in Thailand, you feel like you are contributing to real lives. 

From the taxi driver who takes you to your hotel, to the guy on the street who you buy your coffee from, or the lady who convinced you to buy three t-shirts instead of one, from the tour seller at the kiosk in the street to the guy who drives the bus – in Thailand you always feel like your existence there contributes to making life work for the people who live there. It’s kind of a good feeling.

Which is why this place sets you up for disillusionment in all things travel!

When I visited Zanzibar this year all I wanted to do was be taken to the powers that be and insist that they take a trip to Thailand and learn from this massive community that works in such perfect symbiosis. Zanzibar is so perfectly suited to tourism and yet I cannot help but feel like outsiders are reaping all the benefit. It could so easily be the Thailand of Africa.

But something is being throttled. I can’t quite put my finger on it, and obviously 6 days worth of Zanzibarian experience does not really count in the knowledge department. There seems to be quite a distinct line between the people of Zanzibar and the travel industry that thrives there. This in itself is quite interesting because honestly I never thought about thinking about it before.

I do wonder if it might change, though. Ty and I supported a small business for all our touring needs while we were there. (I’ll post more detail on that soon.) I was so glad we did it that way because it seemed to count a lot more than throwing money at a “proper” touring company. I imagine that distinction might get me quite a bit of hate, but I can’t help it. I’d like to go back in a couple of years time to compare, to see if things improve for the residents of that country. I really hope they do. I hope the tourism industry starts to involve the locals a bit more. I know that Stone Town has government employed local tour guides. That’s a start. Maybe that means that the tourism industry is being taken more seriously and that the country itself is getting involved. I do believe that allowing the tourism industry in that country to merge with local business might bring the ridiculous costs down, which will immediately entice more people to visit.

And why is the tourism industry one that should be taken so seriously? Because in places like this where industry is not an option, where unemployment is high, learning how to sell experiences is a viable option. And the difference between getting it right and just going through the motions could mean a better life for thousands of people. It’s also the difference between getting once off visitors, and getting people to keep coming back.

But maybe I’m just thinking about it all too much…


One thought on “What Zanzibar can learn from Thailand

  1. Great post. It’s not just Zanzibar, even Kenya from where I’m from needs to learn this. What our tourists end up seeing is the padded side of my country with tales told to them from the comfort of their hotels or tour vans.

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