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Published on Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Ebola's impact on tourism in Africa




Michelle Grant, travel and tourism manager at Euromonitor International, looks at the impact of Ebola on Africa's tourist industry.

Since the outbreak of Ebola was declared a global health threat by the World Health Organization in August, the outbreak in West Africa, mainly in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, has had a disproportionate impact on international tourism to Africa. Tourism declines have been noted in countries thoughts of miles away and without the virus. However, the Ebola outbreak in the hardest hit countries seems to be improving and some scientists are optimistic about containment within a year. Once containment happens and is well known, Africa can start the process of rebuilding its tourism industry.

Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone account for less than 1% of international tourism arrivals to Sub-Saharan countries according to Euromonitor International, but fears about the virus are impacting countries thousands of miles away from the epicenter and have no cases of Ebola. A Safaribookings.com poll of 500 tour operators in Africa found that 50% of operators experienced cancellations due to fears about the virus and 69% said that they've experience noticeable declines in their future bookings.

The Hotels Association of Tanzania noted in October 2014 that business had declined by 30% to 40% compared to the pervious year and that bookings for 2015 were down by 50%. South African tourism players, One&Only and Go2Africa, have also discussed declines in their business due to fears of Ebola.

There may be hope for a turnaround in the near term, though. According to the WHO's Ebola situation report from 10 December 2014, Ebola incidence is decreasing in Liberia, increasing or stable in Sierra Leone and slightly increase in Guinea. The race is on for vaccines and anti-viral medications while tests are being done on blood from survivors—all in hopes of containing the virus. Some scientists think that the Ebola virus can be contained within a year.
Once containment happens, it is likely that the positive news will be widespread, alleviating fears about the virus in Africa. It is during this time that private and public players in Africa should work together to promote Africa as a destination to international tourists, who are much more likely to come once the threat of the virus, is contained.

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