Ebola virus and your African holiday
There’s no disputing that latest Ebola outbreak is the worst in history. It’s impacted many thousands of people and can be a very deadly disease for primates. Unfortunately, most media have selectively highlighted the horrifying details of the virus and glossed over the non-sensational bits. For the most part, it's caused unnecessary fear and stress for people who are traveling to areas that are not even remotely close to the outbreak.
If you are contemplating postponing, or even cancelling, an upcoming African safari, please allow us to highlight some important facts that the media have largely ignored.
- There are no direct flights from any of the three infected countries to any of the 14 safari countries YAS features.
Air France hasn’t suspended any of its flights and still operates a daily direct flight between Conakry, Guinea and Paris, France. Brussels Air operates an indirect flight to Freetown, Sierra Leone. The flight stops in Dakar, Senegal and then Conakry, Guinea, before reaching Freetown. In other words, it goes to two of the three Ebola countries prior to landing in Brussels.
- Cote d'Ivoire, or Ivory Coast, shares a border with Guinea and Liberia. It has managed to keep the virus out of the country by banning all flights from Ebola countries and strict border controls.
- South Africa has put a ban on all travelers from Ebola countries
- Kenya Airways has frozen routes to Liberia and Sierra Leone
- Ebola has been present in Uganda and DRC for many years and both countries, but especially Uganda, have been effective at containing it.
Ebola and its impact on African tourism
YAS was able to speak with many of the tour operators recently at the World Travel Market trade show in London this past November. It spoke with tour operators who represent operations in the following countries: Botswana, Kenya, Madagascar, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. Even if the responses were mixed on whether or not the virus has impacted current and future bookings, the message about marketing expenditures in 2015, or at least the first half of 2015, was consistent. Tour operators won’t be increasing their budgets and many have either frozen or cut back budgets while they wait to see how things shake out. They also believe the media has played a large role in consumers' fear to travel to East and South Africa and to cancel upcoming safaris. Many tour operators and safari lodges have been forced to waive all cancellation fees, for fear of losing future business.
Positive note: More people going to Madagascar
One country may have a positive story to tell from the Ebola crisis. Nearly all of the tour operators we interviewed who operate in this country have seen a small to moderate increase in the amount of tours booked in late 2014 and 2015. Only one tour operator reported a cancelled safari, and that was because the itinerary included a mainland Africa portion. It is estimated that the number of visitors to Madagascar would be even larger were it not for the Bubonic Plague scare. The plague is endemic to the island and WHO are not recommending travel bans and the US State Department has issued no travel advisories
Ebola is not new to Africa
March 2014 marked the worst Ebola outbreak to date, but it was first identified nearly 40 years ago, in 1976. The original outbreak occurred in two African countries: Zaire, which is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Sudan. In DRC, the Ebola virus infected 318 people, of whom 280, or 88%, died. In Sudan, 284 people were infected and 151, or 53%, died. The DRC was hit hard once again in 1995, when 315 people became infected and 250 died. Between 2000 and 2005, over 600 people were infected. Uganda saw 425 people infected, with just over 50% succumbing to the virus. Uganda had another outbreak in late 2007, with 149 cases report. A remarkable 112 cases were able to pull through, with only 37 deaths reported.
2014 Ebola Outbreak
The 2014 Ebola epidemic is thought to have originated in December 2013, in the small Guinean town of Meliandou. The village is located within the forest and is it believed that the fruit bat is the main transmitter of the virus. According to the CDC, only mammals have shown the ability to spread and become infected with the Ebola virus. There is no evidence that mosquitos or other insects can transmit the virus. The 2014 Ebola outbreak would eventually impact several western Africa countries: Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Mali, Nigeria and Senegal. It also impacted a small number of citizens of Span and the United States. WHO has since declared outbreaks in Nigeria and Senegal as officially over.
At the time of publishing this article, the number of Ebola virus cases is leveling off in two of the three main countries. The World Health Organization reports that their target to get 70 percent of Ebola-infected people into treatment has been met in Liberia and Guinea. Sierra Leone’s Ebola outbreak case number has now surpassed that of Liberia.
Although this Ebola outbreak has taken a devastating toll on three of Africa's countries, its center is further away from all African safari countries than it is from Rio de Janeiro. Both South and East Africa have taken stringent measures to prevent the virus from spreading. If you've any doubts about the virus and or potential risks, get an informed opinion, rather than blindly following hearsay. At the time of publication, the US State Department has issued no travel alerts or warnings for any African safari country.