SITE cannot ignore the current Ebola situation being communicated 24/7 through the media, but neither can we overreact which could lead to the corporate community making decisions to either relocate or postpone programs prematurely. We rely on the strong relationships that bind our members globally to gauge an accurate assessment about how Ebola fears, heightened by anxiety-inducing news, are impacting the incentive travel industry. It is critical that SITE members become educated and prepared to proactively address the situation with their customers, starting with an understanding of geography and the fact that Africa is a continent made up of 54 individual countries.
"Travel to Africa has been affected by Ebola. There have been several cancellations, even to South Africa, although it is located a 7-8 hour flight away from the outbreak centre. These include several incentive and conference groups, however many more groups continue to travel to South Africa and to the non-affected regions within Africa,” stated Daryl Keywood, SITE Board member and Managing Director, Walthers, DMC, South Africa. “Cancellations are mostly from Asia and North America where there seems to be a lack of understanding regarding the true risk. Travel from Europe has been little affected possibly due to to more frequent travel and strong colonial ties to the continent. Media reports have attempted to raise awareness to dispel fears but unfortunately the understanding of the limited area of the huge continent of Africa that is affected, and the low risk of transmission has not been clearly conveyed.”
The Ebola outbreak is currently limited to West Africa where the majority of cases have been recorded in three countries. Many parts of Europe and even South America are closer to the major Ebola areas of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, than the popular tourist areas of Southern and East Africa. If geography is used to determine risk, then London and Sao Paulo are closer to the Ebola outbreak than, for example, Cape Town or The Kruger National Park. Safaris and eco-tours are a major part of African tourism. In Namibia, tourism accounts for almost 15 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product. But Ebola fears have severely affected the safari business, even though safaris are centered far from the affected areas.
South Africa and many other African countries have strict preventative measures in place. No person that has visited Liberia, Guinea or Sierra Leone may enter South Africa within a period of 32 days from departing the Ebola area. This is the agreed maximum incubation period for the disease. There are no direct flights between South Africa and any of the three major outbreak countries. Prevention measures such as infra-red fever screening currently being implemented in the USA has been standard practice in South African Airports for many years. Neither the WHO or CDC has recommended travel restrictions to non-Ebola affected areas of Africa. Travel Insurance continues to be offered to visitors to North, Southern and East Africa none of which have yet to record a case of Ebola.
Although this year’s outbreak is the worst to date, some countries are better prepared than others. The good news is that, As of last week, Senegal and Nigeria have both been declared Ebola free by the WHO and there have been no new cases in either countries for almost two months The prevention and containment measures in both countries have controlled the spread of the disease which was introduced by visitors or returning citizens.
Ebola is not new, there have been more than 20 outbreaks in the past 40 years.The disease is not airborne and similar to HIV can only be contracted through contact with body fluids. Since the beginning of the outbreak, not a single tourist has contracted the Ebola virus. This includes many tourists that have been going to the affected countries.
Fear over Ebola contagion has not yet caused a great level of distress to the global travel industry. In a study conducted by the Global Business Travel Association, 80 percent of members said that Ebola has had zero to little impact on international business travel. But with around-the-clock media coverage on the epidemic, the effect could increase.
“Although Ebola is top of mind, its business as usual for most business travelers,” said GBTA Executive Director and COO Michael W. McCormick. “But that is not to say that companies are not following this outbreak closely. A majority of travel managers said they either are, or plan to provide, their employees with updated information on staying safe while traveling.”
SITE will continue to closely monitor the situation in order to provide our members accurate and timely information. Below are links to several articles that are helpful in gaining a better understanding of the Ebola outbreak and should be referenced to educate your customers.