The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is putting off thousands of tourists who planned trips to Africa this year, especially Asians, including to destinations thousands of kilometres from the nearest infected community such as Kenya and South Africa.
South Africa said yesterday that, to prevent the spread of Ebola, it was banning travellers from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone from entering the country, apart from its own citizens.
Ebola, a haemorrhagic disease that can kill up to 90 per cent of those infected, has led to the deaths of more than 1,300 people this year in the three small West African states, and also has a toehold in Nigeria.
There are no known cases outside of this epicentre, but many tourists were afraid to travel anywhere on the continent, tour operators said.
Most cancellations are from Asia, but visitors from the United States, Brazil and Europe have also scrapped trips, they said.
A Brazilian business delegation this month cancelled a trip to Namibia, in southern Africa.
"We've seen a huge amount of cancellations from Asia and the groups that do travel, the numbers have dropped," said Hannes Boshoff, managing director at Johannesburg-based ERM Tours.
About 80 per cent of his Asian customers had cancelled trips for the next few months, including a group booking of 1,500 Thais worth US$1.12 million, he said.
"A lot of consumers just see Africa. They see it as one country ... I try and tell people Europe and America are closer to the Ebola outbreak than South Africa."
Nearly 10 million visitors went to South Africa last year and tourism accounted for more than 10 per cent of GDP, with Asian markets the fastest growing.
The World Health Organisation declared the West African Ebola outbreak a "public health emergency of international concern" on August 8.
Travel agents said Asians, who lived through severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) and H1N1 flu, did not want to take risks.
"We have dealt with a lot of guests who have literally been begged by their families to cancel their trip," said Kim Nixon, managing director at Singapore-based Asia To Africa Safaris.
Most cancellations were trips to East Africa. "The Asian market dealt a lot with H1N1 [and] Sars, so there is a great fear of these virulent diseases no matter how easily they spread," said Nixon.
He said that 10 per cent of his clients had cancelled or postponed trips.
Thompsons Africa said it had also seen the biggest cancellations from Asian clients, but recently also had a luxury group of US travellers withdraw, which would cost the South African travel company about US$47,000.
"This sort of thing has momentum and it could get worse as we go into the next days and weeks," said Craig Drysdale, Thompsons' head of sales.
- Two American aid workers who were infected with Ebola have been discharged from an Atlanta hospital in the US where they were treated. Doctor Kent Brantly, 33, and Nancy Writebol, 60, became sick with Ebola in Monrovia, Liberia, last month, and were airlifted to Emory University Hospital for treatment.
"The discharge from the hospital of both these patients poses no public health threat," said Bruce Ribner, director of Emory's infectious disease unit.