African tourism officials shake off Ebola stigma
By Alan Green
Although the Ebola outbreak of December 2013 has seriously affected only three countries in West Africa, tourism as a whole on the continent has been hit with a smaller increase than in most other regions of the world. Participants at the 49th International Tourism Fair in Berlin this week are seeking to fight off the Ebola fear to woo back tourists.
The largest ever annual tourism fair got underway this week in Berlin, Germany, with booths set up by some 10,000 travel companies, hotels, tourism groups and restaurants from 186 countries and territories. Operators from many tourist destinations in Africa are in attendance, committed to fight off the stigma and ignorance that have caused tourism to grow last year at a lower pace than expected. Among representatives of several tourism destinations, the Ivorian tourism office is present at the mega gathering, eagerly showing off the country’s nine national parks and its 340 miles of sunny beaches, just as is Kenya, another major African tourist destination.
According to the U.N. World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), some 56 million tourists visited Africa in 2014, which represents a 2% increase from the previous year. That growth rate, while positive, lagged behind those of Europe, Asia and the Americas, and in comparison to the continent’s robust 4.8% growth rate of the previous year.
The Ebola epidemic ravaged the three West African nations of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, and has now been significantly under control, with no new case reported in Liberia over the past week. But, as a result of what has been dubbed “the epidemic of ignorance”–people’s perception during the epidemic that these three countries alone stand for the whole of Africa–a large number of tourists stayed away from Africa out of fear.
Cote d’Ivoire’s representative at the Berlin tourism fair, Marie-France Adieme N’Dja, has reportedly told the French news agency, Agence France Press, AFP, the extent to which the epidemic has created panic, and the vast ignorance behind it: “We have operators who have had cancelled bookings because of the fear of Ebola. However in Ivory Coast there has not been a single case” the Ivorian tourism official said.
Taleb Rifai, head of the U.N. World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), also reportedly told AFP that Africa did well despite the Ebola epidemic, but added: “It was very unfair the generalization that happened.” The UN official also said that Africa needs support.
One of the strategies being used by tourism officials at the 49th Annual Tourism Fair is to point out the distance between the countries affected by the Ebola epidemic and other regions of the continent, especially the key tourist destinations. “The distance between South Africa and West Africa, or Kenya and West Africa, is further away than the distance between West Africa and North America even,” Rifai, UNWTO’s secretary general, said.