I'm Going to Africa, and I Won't Get Ebola
When I tell friends I'm flying to Africa soon for a vacation with my husband and our young daughter, they react in one of two ways: elation (trip of a lifetime!) or horror (Ebola!).
Of course, there's virtually no risk of my contracting the deadly virus. We're going to Namibia, which has had fewer cases of Ebola (zero) than the U.S. The capital, Windhoek, is about as far away from Monrovia, Liberia -- where the outbreak is uncontained -- as Miami is from Seattle. And Ebola's transmission through direct contact with body fluids keeps it from spreading as far and as fast as, say, the flu.
Yet an NBC News survey out today found that a majority of Americans support banning all inbound flights from the affected countries. The survey didn't name Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, and that lack of detail is a problem for the other 52 African countries, especially those popular with tourists.
Tourism contributed 8.5 percent to Africa's gross domestic product in 2013, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council, and was expected to grow by 4.1 percent in 2014. Ebola is changing that.
“Ebola can damage Africa’s economic revival of recent years,” Paz Casal, a Spain-based travel and tourism research analyst, told Bloomberg News in August, “resurfacing the continent’s negative stereotypes as a place of disease, famine and poverty.”
There are already signs of that. In Kenya, a hotel owner told the Associated Press that his resort -- on the other side of the continent from the outbreak -- saw no international arrivals for two weeks in August. In Nigeria, occupancy rates had fallen to 30 percent from 65 percent.
Andre Steynberg, the vice president of sales for the tour operator Alluring Africa, told Yahoo Travel that his company has “probably lost around $350,000 in the last five days,” thanks to postponements. There have been zero cases of Ebola in the countries where Alluring Africa operates.
And in Namibia, despite the optimistic headlines, another touring company projected demand was down 20 percent, and a group of Brazilian executives canceled a visit to an oil conference in August. Although that means more oysters for me, it's a setback for the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, not to mention the country's economy.
It would be a shame if all the panic over Ebola and our confusion about geography kept families from visiting a vast, varied and beautiful continent. I'm still packing my bags. And yes, Mom, I'll wash my hands often; I wouldn't want to catch a cold and scare away the zebras with my sneezes.
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