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Monday, January 5, 2015

Small Risk, Big Place: How Misinformation Damaged African Tourism

Tourism has started to stretch to more exotic parts of the world, especially in recent years. A great example of this was seen in 2012, when the Sub-Saharan region of Africa welcomed more than 33 million visitors. The World Tourism Organization’s Global Travel Report anticipated a rise in these numbers- with a projected growth of 6% in 2013, and an additional 6% in 2014. However, because of global health scares, tourism to not only this part of Africa, but all of Africa, was crippled.
Africa, as a whole, is the second largest continent, and is also the second most populous continent. Comprised of 54 fully-recognized sovereign states with nine territories and two independent states, the cultures, languages, terrain, climates and ecology vary tremendously. The land mass is larger than Europe, the United States and China combined.

Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) took the lives of thousands of Africans in 2014, and the deadly virus continues to affect parts of Western Africa- particularly in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) still warns travelers to avoid non-essential travel to these countries.

We learned that EVD can only be transmitted through direct contact with an infected person or animal- through broken skin or mucus membranes with blood or body fluids, contaminated needles or an infected fruit bat or primate. Ebola is not spread through the air, in water or in food. It is not spread through casual contact, and there is no evidence to show that mosquitoes can carry or transmit the disease. The people with the highest risk of contracting EVD are the healthcare workers tasked with caring for those infected with Ebola, and the “burial boys” responsible for burying those who perished from the virus.

The CDC does not recommend that travelers avoid visiting other countries or regions of Africa, and even stated that “Ebola is very low risk for most travelers”.

"...a number of African travel companies have reported
their business down as much as 70% this year."
With this knowledge, how did the world manage to become so afraid that they nearly stopped traveling to non-infected parts of Africa? A number of African travel companies have reported their business down as much as 70% this year, with thousands of tourists postponing or cancelling their planned travel to many countries throughout Africa. Business and leisure travelers have tended to view Africa as a single country that needs to be avoided since Ebola was declared a global health threat in August of 2014, despite the fact that the virus was not present in a majority of the continent in the latest outbreak.
So, why does fear have so much power over travel and risk in Africa, but not in other parts of the world?

Geographical misconceptions are leading many travelers to avoid Africa completely. “Many people still look at Africa as a homogeneous country rather than a massive and not as the second largest continent”, a tour operator from a said. Safaris are generally conducted in Eastern and Southern Africa- at times, thousands of miles from anywhere that EVD has been found. A safari guide from Tanzania said “…you would not cancel your vacation in Paris because of conflicts in the Ukraine. If something was happening in Alaska, you would still go on your trip to New York.” This captures the vast spaces between Ebola-stricken countries and where safaris are generally taking place.

With so much of Africa’s economy based on tourism, the implications of this trend is devastating. Economists with the World Bank have stated that in addition to the loss of revenue from tourism, billions of dollars have been lost in disruptions in trading and supply chains.
A new year means new adventures. Ebola serves as a great reminder to all travelers to do the research- learn about your destination, and stay current with news and events happening there. Thousands of people are missing out on the trip of a lifetime this year because of fear and inaccurate information.

For more information on Ebola, visit the CDC’s Resource Guide. To learn about Vetted’s EVD referral handling procedures, see our press release from October 2014.

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