The View from Mongolia
We're fortunate to have a whole host of lovely guides around the world and we've been reaching out to check in and see how they've been faring during the pandemic. With every country handling things differently, they've given us an insight into how things are on the ground, how they've been keeping busy and what their hopes are for a return to travel. This week we speak to our man in Mongolia, Tulga.
The pandemic seems to have affected some countries in more severe ways than others, how has it been in Mongolia?
Mongolia has been hit much the same as many other countries even though Mongolia was doing a great job to stop the Covid virus from entering quite successfully over the first 9 months. Firstly, it affected people psychologically. They were nervous, panicked and started to hate the person who had been affected by the Covid virus. It was toilet paper madness in many countries and the same thing happened in Mongolia, only it was bags of flour! Here, locals can survive with noodles made out of flour together with beef and mutton for a long period. Remember, for 3.5 million Mongolians, there's 70 million livestock!
During this period, the Mongolian government tried to help people but has been criticized a lot. We are only a developing country in many ways. The economy is still weak. There aren't many funds for emergency cases. I would say we are still struggling but we're glad other countries are helping Mongolia a lot like bringing vaccines and donating some necessary help which we still need some more of.
But the situation is a lot better now. People accept this pandemic as bad, but there are ways to avoid it or to protect themselves in the towns and cities. You should still wear a facial mask on the street, or everywhere in public areas. Businesses started to reopen to try their best to earn money. It is very different in the countryside though, because it is an open space, it’s less populated and people tend to know each other more, so they’re more relaxed which means they’re still highly vulnerable.
Regarding travelling, people in Mongolia are able to travel freely within the country now, after 7 months of quarantine, which is really nice! The government is still trying to reopen the border to receive tourists from overseas but it is difficult by now. Many other countries blacklisted Mongolia, seemingly not trusting so much to travel to Mongolia even though the numbers of Covid cases are reducing. I hope things will get better soon, despite the Delta variant.
Outside the lack of tourists, how has Covid had a significant impact on your daily life?
I depend on tourism 100% so it hit me and my family very hard. I’ve never had this feeling before! The worst thing is I carry hope every day. Watching the news to hope things will get better. I had such a big hope to start that this Covid-19 would ease sooner. But it didn't. The vaccine then gave us hope but we are still struggling. Another hope is that things will get better after December 2021. If not, I have to look for another career for my life! I have to pay bills, kids' school fees and much more. The financial situation of my family is on high alert by now. I sold my car, my bank savings are getting low and although the government is promising to help us it still seems far away!
Another thing is stress. Staying at home for longer especially under strict quarantine periods was hard, I felt like I found myself in a box! Things you could do were so limited. So I decided to watch more movies and just enjoy talking to my kids. I haven't had that kind of time with them for many years. When we were allowed to travel within the country freely, I took my family and friends out to explore the country and that was a real good time. Family time is precious to me especially now that the kids are growing up and almost ready to leave home. One already has and two will be soon!
Staying home for longer made me notice how my kids love their phones more and more. I still couldn't find a way to solve it. Maybe it is just a global problem with kids nowadays.
How have you stayed positive during this time? Have you taken up any new hobbies or projects?
Yes, there are positive things. Spending more time with my family has been so nice. I’ve finished a lot of books, watched a lot of movies, videos and so on. Since I picked up photography, I’ve developed my skills a lot and started to do more videos. I travelled without clients a few times along the same routes that I usually take clients which means I was seeing things from different angles and with different feelings! I was also happy to get back to archery shooting, too.
What do you miss most about welcoming travellers to your country?
Oh, so many things, such as the laughter, the many conversations - in lots of ways, I miss my job so much!
Have you been vaccinated? Has most of your community?
The vaccination rate is very high in Mongolia now, more than 63% are fully vaccinated. I’ve had my vaccine already. Maybe time for a third shot?
How do you see the pandemic changing the way you lead tours?
Yes, there will be changes. I feel like I’ve accepted the new normal already. I would say we will be more careful, try to avoid crowded places to start with, for sure. We will wear a face mask where needed, no problem. Visit places that prioritise very thorough cleaning, I expect. I mentioned I travelled to where I usually take my clients and I started to see things being done differently even there. It seems the tourism industry there will be happy to see travellers too, so they’re making preparations.
Where or who are you most excited to see again on your tours once things return to normal?
Mongolia is one of the most unique destinations. People don't just randomly choose Mongolia as their next holiday so I'm happy to welcome those travellers, introduce them to the beauty and adventure of Mongolia and help them make lots of nice memories!
Is there anything you’d like to see foreign travellers do when they return – wear masks, not shake hands, stay outside of your community?
Don’t be afraid to rely on your tour leaders, they will know the best things to do at the right times. You will probably have a long list of things you shouldn’t do... same as everywhere, but we as tour leaders are happy to advise so you can focus on enjoying your holiday. Just know that’s our priority so if you listen to your tour leaders, we won’t steer you wrong.
When do you predict that foreign travellers - in any significant numbers - will be able to start returning to your country?
According to our government, Korean tourists are allowed sooner or within the next month to start with. If that’s a success, we might be able to welcome winter tourists this year. But by March 2022, Mongolia will be able to receive tourists normally I hope.
If people want to help, are there any local projects that you're aware of - or perhaps work with - that you could recommend for people to support?
Yes. There is a tribe found in the north of Mongolia - the Tsaatan, or reindeer herders. They need lots of help. There are only 320 of them left with 2500 reindeer in the mountains. They need help with health, education, job creation and reindeer problems!
Anything else you’d like to add?
How about an ice-cold beer? Thanks!