The Ebola outbreak has stagnated the economic growth of West African countries, as they struggle to deal with the deadly contagion.
The health sector seems to have taken the biggest hit in the wake of this outbreak. However, another sector seems to be taking a huge blow due to the Ebola virus – the tourism sector.
The tourism sector is not just taking a hit in the four Ebola-hit West African countries of Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria. In fact, most of the African tourism sector seems to have taken a huge hit due to the deadly virus.
Even countries like South Africa and Kenya, which share no borders with the West African countries (in fact, they lie on the other side of the continent) seem to be falling prey to this misconception by the tourists.
"Ebola is in Africa. That is what they're saying," said Barry Hunter, Chief Executive of ERM Tours, a South African travel agency, to Wall Street Journal.
He said that an insurance company from Thailand had booked a trip for 1,500 of its employees, to Cape Town, in order to reward them for their excellent performance. However, they have now cancelled all their tickets.
The most frustrating factor in this whole ordeal for the travel agency is that there has been no instance of the Ebola virus in South Africa, and the country does not even share a border with any of the Ebola-hit countries.
Hunter said that ERM Tours has had to face a lot of cancellations recently. Most of these cancellations have come from ERM's Asian clients, which constitutes of around 60 percent of their clientele.
This trend is not just restricted to the common tourists. An Indian delegation, comprising of many politicians and bureaucrats, was supposed to visit South Africa on a goodwill mission. The meet was supposed to last from Monday 25 August to Wednesday 3 September 2014. This trip was also cancelled, however, as fears of the Ebola virus surfaced.
The sources, who wish to remain anonymous, say that many Members of Parliament (MP) were afraid of travelling to any African region, and had asked Venkaiah Naidu, the leader of the delegation and the Minister for Parliamentary Affairs, to cancel the trip.
The MPs, who were supposed to be a part of the delegation, however, denied the fact that it was cancelled due to fears of the deadly virus, although no concrete reason was given.
"I believe the decision may have been spurred by an incident where two people were picked up and quarantined on suspicion that they were carrying the Ebola virus. But both of them tested negative," said Shri Pillay, the First Secretary of the South African High Commission.
These trips have been cancelled in spite of the fact that all passengers entering South Africa are screened for symptoms of the Ebola virus, much like the screening procedures in the Indian airports.
The travel agencies in India have reported that they expect a 70 to 80 percent drop in bookings for African tourism this year, due to the Ebola virus.
They say that the main time for the tourists to plan their trip to African countries is between the months of September, October and November, during the time of the wild beast migration, which is mainly based on wildlife safari.
"People are cancelling plans as a precautionary step," said G Krishna, Chairman, Travel Agents Association of India, Pune, to The Times of India. "We recently cancelled bookings of three people heading to South Africa. But we are telling clients that there is no need to cancel trips to South Africa as it is nowhere close to West Africa, the epicentre of the outbreak."
Krishna also said that the bookings to South Africa have already dwindled by 80 percent, when compared to the number of bookings made to the country, last year.
Many tickets to Kenya, a country that has banned all passengers coming in from Guinea, Liberia or Sierra Leone, have also been cancelled.
If you look by the distance, European countries seem to be closer to the Ebola-stricken West African nations, than countries like South Africa, Tanzania or Kenya.
However, the prejudice that the whole of Africa is suffering from the Ebola virus seems to have gripped the world at the moment, as tourists cancel their tickets left right and centre.