Ebola in­fects Africa’s economic re­vival

CityPress - - Business -

When Cana­dian tourist Shauna Mag­ill posted on Face­book that she had ar­rived safely in Uganda, a friend warned her to be­ware of “a thing called Ebola”.

An­other friend re­sponded to that com­ment with a Google Maps link that showed Uganda’s cap­i­tal, Kam­pala, and Nige­ria – the clos­est na­tion af­fected by the Ebola out­break in west Africa – are 4 900km apart by road.

Mis­per­cep­tions about Africa’s geog­ra­phy mean that Mag­ill is be­com­ing an ex­cep­tion among the in­creas­ing num­ber of trav­ellers who are can­celling trips to the con­ti­nent as health work­ers bat­tle to con­tain the worst Ebola out­break on record.

Air­lines have sus­pended routes to Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, the coun­tries at the epi­cen­tre of the dis­ease. Flight book­ings to sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa might drop as much as 50% over the next four months, ac­cord­ing to mar­ket re­search com­pany Euromon­i­tor In­ter­na­tional.

That would put the brakes on a tourism in­dus­try the World Bank says grew at the fastest pace glob­ally over the past three years.

“Many trav­ellers see Africa as one big coun­try,” said Paz Casal, a Spain-based travel and tourism re­search an­a­lyst at Euromon­i­tor.

“Ebola can dam­age Africa’s economic re­vival of re­cent years, resur­fac­ing the con­ti­nent’s neg­a­tive stereo­types as a place of dis­ease, famine and poverty,” she added.

Ebola has killed 1 552 peo­ple out of 3 069 cases since De­cem­ber. It may shave as much as 1.5 per­cent­age points off growth in the worst-af­fected economies, ac­cord­ing to African Devel­op­ment Bank pres­i­dent Don­ald Kaberuka.

A sep­a­rate out­break has killed as many as 13 peo­ple in the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo, where the vi­ral ill­ness was first dis­cov­ered in 1976. Nige­ria’s gov­ern­ment con­firmed yes­ter­day that a doc­tor in the oil city of Port Har­court was the sixth Ebola-in­fected per­son to die in that coun­try, mark­ing the first fa­tal­ity out­side the com­mer­cial hub of La­gos.

At­tempts by African gov­ern­ments to in­crease med­i­cal sur­veil­lance at air­ports have not stopped car­ri­ers, in­clud­ing Bri­tish Air­ways and Kenya Air­ways, from sus­pend­ing flights to Ebola-af­fected na­tions.

Korean Air this month de­ferred its route to Kenya, three time zones away from the out­break, be­cause of the risk of the in­fec­tion spread­ing there via ser­vices from west Africa.

A frenzy of me­dia re­port­ing af­ter the news last month that two US aid work­ers were in­fected with Ebola in Liberia and the can­celled Korean Air flight led to an in­creased sense of ap­pre­hen­sion among trav­ellers to Kenya, ac­cord­ing to Jake Grieves-Cook, the spokesper­son for the Kenya Tourism Fed­er­a­tion.

Kenya is al­ready fac­ing a slug­gish year for tourism be­cause of “neg­a­tive” re­ports about in­se­cu­rity fol­low­ing a se­ries of at­tacks by Is­lamist mil­i­tants, said Grieves-Cook.

“As long as there is effective screen­ing and prompt treat­ment of pa­tients in iso­la­tion wards, the sit­u­a­tion should be brought un­der con­trol,” he said.

“The num­bers are very low com­pared with deaths world­wide from malaria, Aids or in­fluenza, which do not cause such a level of panic.”

On Au­gust 8, the World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion de­clared the west Africa Ebola out­break a public health emer­gency. It said the risk of Ebola spread­ing dur­ing air travel was low.

Ebola, which has no proven cure and is trans­mit­ted through di­rect con­tact with bod­ily flu­ids from an in­fected per­son, can rav­age the body with symp­toms that in­clude bleed­ing from the eyes and ears, vom­it­ing and or­gan fail­ure. The cur­rent out­break has killed about half of those in­fected.

In ad­di­tion to mis­un­der­stand­ing the geog­ra­phy of Africa, visi­tors are also con­cerned cash-strapped gov­ern­ments will be un­able to con­tain the spread, ac­cord­ing to Thu­lani Nz­ima, the CEO of SA Tourism.

Asian tour groups are among those can­celling trips be­cause of the dis­ease, he said, with­out giv­ing more de­tails.

“A lot of coun­tries out there still paint Africa as a coun­try, rather than a con­ti­nent,” said Nz­ima. “They do not be­lieve we have con­trol, that we can man­age this.”

Ac­cord­ing to the World Bank, tourist ar­rivals to sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa quadru­pled since 1990 to 34 mil­lion visi­tors in 2012.

Ho­tel chains in­clud­ing Mar­riott, Star­wood and Hil­ton are open­ing more lo­ca­tions in Africa to tap the grow­ing mid­dle class of con­sumers and ris­ing travel lev­els.

Ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tional Mon­e­tary Fund, 70% of the fastest-grow­ing economies in the next five years are likely to be in Africa.

San­dra Car­vao, the World Tourism Or­gan­i­sa­tion’s chief of com­mu­ni­ca­tions, said Ebola-af­fected na­tions rep­re­sent less than 0.5% of all in­ter­na­tional travel to Africa, mut­ing the “di­rect im­pact” from the out­break on tourism.

– Bloomberg


SCARE Tourists are avoid­ing trips to Africa be­cause of Ebola fears

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