Canceled trips and frightened tourists - the Ebola crisis is now also affecting Africa's tourism industry. Travelers avoid not only the Ebola-stricken countries but the entire continent.
The beach so white, the sea so blue, wild animals close enough to touch – but despite all the efforts by travel agencies offering trips to Africa, tourists are staying away. They are afraid not only of Ebola-stricken countries like Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, but also of the entire continent of Africa, even countries like Tanzania which is 8,000 kilometers (4,970 miles) away.
"We are noticing a drop in requests and bookings of about 30 to 40% as well as cancellations. This is because people are afraid of Ebola," said Lathifa Sykes, Managing Director of the non-profit organization "Hotel Association of Tanzania."
Sykes manages over 199 holiday accommodations ranging from famous hotel chains to small apartments. Currently, Sykes is desperate.
"Our main customers are from the US, Europe and Asia where Africa is still widely seen as a country. Although it is a continent made up of over 50 countries! When these people think of safari, Africa is what comes to mind and not Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa or Burundi." These are the top destinations on the continent.
Tourism is Tanzania's main source of foreign exchange. Last year, the industry recorded about $1.88 billion (1.5 billion euros). In 2013, Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest in Africa, and the Indian Ocean attracted one million visitors to the country. "Tourism is very important to our country and the Ebola scare is affecting us so much," said Sykes.
The Ebola crisis is affecting far more countries than the three that have been directly hit, confirmed Rima Al-Tinawi, Africa Department Head of the German Chamber of Commerce and Industry. "People are very concerned and it seems they want to stay away from the African continent altogether. We are aware of holiday and business trips to Kenya and Namibia being cancelled."
No threat of Ebola in South Africa
"No, in South Africa there is no Ebola danger!" the South African state travel agency declares on its website. "The country is safe and is still a tourist destination," said the Minister of Communications Faith Muthambi. And indeed, the company has not recorded any losses so far, said Silvia Braun from Germany's South Africa tourism agency. " Bookings are not in decline, but they are coming in more slowly than last year." However, 2013 was an above-average year, Braun added.
To protect themselves, some African countries have imposed an entry ban on passengers from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. Rwanda allows people from these countries to enter only after a 21-day incubation period. In August, Kenya, the hub for many intra-African flights, banned all flights coming from Ebola-affected countries.
Hotels, traders, tour guides
On the coast of West Africa, Senegal - a popular destination particularly for French holidaymakers- is feeling the absence of tourists. "We have 30 rooms. If we only have 10 or 15 guests, we say business is bad. But now we sometimes spend the whole day without a single guest. We often lay the tables for only three or four people," complained Aliou Ndiaye, a hotel manager in Dakar. The traders in front of his hotel are also frustrated. "Tourists are our livelihood, but there is no business. Nobody comes here."
On the offensive
Meanwhile, Catharina Galle from the Cologne travel agency "Unpauschal" does her best to reassure customers. Tanzania, South Africa and Namibia have been Germans' three favorite countries - up to now. "The guests are now more sensitive in terms of the African continent as a whole. They have lots of questions," said Galle. "But if you look at the map, at the distances between countries, then we see that we in Europe are just as near or as far away as South Africa, Namibia or Tanzania."
In Tanzania tourism associations, together with the Ministry of Health, have developed a website (to be launched in November) to inform and educate tourists, said Lathifa Sykes. "We have to make clear to travelers that we are not taking the issue of Ebola lightly, we are not ignoring people's fears. We are working hard to keep it out of the country. We believe that our country is safe for tourists," Sykes insisted. "Well informed tourists will continue to come to Tanzania."