Following years of dealing with sluggish sales due to the economic recession in the United States, business had recently been picking up for Alluring Africa, a tour operator in East and South Africa.
"People were traveling again. Things were picking up nicely." said André Steynberg, Vice President of Sales for Alluring Africa.
Then came the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Deaths from the disease and persistent media coverage in the States has delivered a financial blow to the tourism industry.
Steynberg told Yahoo Travel that the international attention on Ebola in West Africa has no doubt created setbacks for tour companies. “I would predict that 32 U.S. tour operators have lost about 2 million dollars due to cancellations in the past week.” said Styenberg. Due to clients postponing their tours, “[Alluring Africa] has probably lost around $350,000 in the last five days.”
This year, Tour d’Afrique, a four-month cycling trip from Cairo to Cape Town are expecting only 25 participants, instead of the 40 that usually sign up. With the increased international attention on Ebola, Shanny Hill, the marketing manager for the cycling company, fears their numbers could be even more dire. “Our final payment deadline for this tour is in just a few days and Ebola is all over International news right now,” said Hill. “We have the potential to lose a few hundred thousand dollars if things get worse, and for a company of only 8 full-time staff, that’s a huge loss of income.
The general consensus among most of the travel operators is that Americans’ fear about traveling to parts of Africa that have not been affected is unwarranted.
“I like to remind people that there are currently more diagnosed Ebola cases in America than in any of the 10 African countries we travel through,” Hill said.
“Africa is a big continent. I think the media is focusing on the wrong issues. There have been no cases of Ebola in the countries we operate in,” Steynberg said.
Craig Beal, owner/operator of Travel Beyond added, “If you want to be safe from Ebola, you’re safer in South Africa. You’re more isolated there than you are in America.”
Premier Tours has been operating in East and South Africa for nearly 28 years. Owner Julian Harrison thinks the current threat to tourism in Africa isn’t Ebola, it’s the hysteria created by media coverage of the outbreak. “It’s the fear of the unknown, and a misconception that Ebola affects all of Africa,” he told Yahoo Travel. “I think the focus is on ebola right now, but my experience is that the media loses interest very quickly. Something else comes along and the attention swings.”
Eric Duncan, the first Ebola patient diagnosed on U.S. soil, died from the illness on Wednesday, October 8, 2014. (Photo: AP)
For now, however, Ebola is front and center in the news. Eric Duncan, the first Ebola patient to be diagnosed in the United States, died on Wednesday in Dallas. Duncan most likely contracted the disease in Liberia, before boarding a plane to visit family in Texas. He landed in the U.S. on Sept. 20, and four days later was rushed to the emergency at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital showing symptoms of Ebola, including a high fever and abdominal pain.
Passengers on his flights, and anyone who came in contact with Duncan after his arrival, have been since screened for Ebola. The tests were negative, but on Wednesday, a Dallas County Sergeant who came in contact with Duncan’s home was hospitalized after reporting feeling ill.
Ebola can only be transmitted by contact with blood, sweat, or bodily fluids of an infected person.
Two days after Eric Duncan was diagnosed with Ebola, Dr. Gil Mobley, a Missouri doctor, checked in and boarded a plane dressed in full protection gear. (Photo: AP)
Flying has been concern for millions of America’s, especially after Duncan’s arrival in the U.S. To combat fears and control the spread of Ebola, the United States government announced on Wednesday that they are implementing additional health-screening procedures at five U.S. airports. Passengers from Ebola-stricken countries in West Africa will have their temperatures taken on arrival, and be given a questionnaire about possible contact with Ebola. The screenings will start this Saturday at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City and will be rolled out in Washington Dulles International, O’Hare International, Hartsfield-Jackson International,and Newark Liberty International starting next week.
As far as traveling to Africa, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) advises against trips to Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone, with instructions to “avoid nonessential travel” to those countries. Increased warnings have also been issued for the Congo. To date, there is no warning from the CDC about traveling to other parts of Africa. In fact, Dr. Phyllis Kozarsky, MD, a medical consultant to the CDC, says that they have no travel concerns for East and South Africa. “There is a lack of basic knowledge about geography in Africa," she said. “It's like saying that you don't want to go to the U.S. because there is an illness in one state."
Still, travelers have adopted a “wait and see” attitude about visiting the continent.
Steynberg is nervous about what will happen if tourists wait too long. “It’s predicted that roughly one tourism worker is supporting at least 10 family members in Africa,” he said. “The US tourist dollars stretches a long way to support both conservation and local populations that surround each of the National parks and reserves…effectively Africa will bear the brunt of this Ebola hysteria.”
It’s been difficult for Julian Harrison to measure just how much business Premier Tours has lost since the beginning of the outbreak, but he admits that the phone has been ringing a lot less often. Regardless, he’s confident that things will turn around.
“Business is cyclical. Whether it’s the economy, disease, or terrorism, tourism is going to come back. It’s just a matter of time.”
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