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Ebola fear takes toll on Africa tourism

Published:Sunday | September 14, 2014 | 12:00 AM
In this August 6, 2014 file photo, a Nigerian port health official uses a thermometer on a worker at the arrivals hall of Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos, Nigeria.-AP file photo

KAMPALA, (AP):Ebola is thousands of miles away from Kenya's pristine Indian Ocean beaches, but the deadly disease appears to be discouraging tourism there and elsewhere in this vast continent.

Harald Kampa, a hotelier near Mombasa, says the Ebola outbreak in West Africa is hurting his business.

For two weeks in August he had no international arrivals at his Diani Sea Resort, leading him to suspect that Ebola had frightened away his clients. He noticed an improvement only after Kenya Airways cancelled flights to the Ebola-hit West African nations of Sierra Leone and Liberia, action that the local tourism fraternity said was necessary to assure tourists of Kenya's determination to keep Ebola out.

Kampa is not alone. Tour operators across Africa say they face difficulties as the Ebola outbreak, which has killed more than 2,200 people in four countries, continues to defy international efforts to control it.

Tourism, a major source of revenue for many African countries - especially Kenya and South Africa — is increasingly being hurt as some potential visitors hesitate over visiting the continent which is home to the disease.

In Nigeria, where there have been very few Ebola cases, occupancy rates in five-star hotels in the commercial capital, Lagos, have fallen drastically, with many conferences postponed until further notice, said Nigerian economist Bismarck Rewane of the Financial Derivatives Company.

Occupancy rates now generally hover around 30 per cent instead of 65 per cent at this time of year, and the drop is even higher for bar and restaurant traffic in Lagos, he said.

Even though the World Health Organisation and international trade groups say there is low risk of transmitting the virus during air travel, major airlines such as British Airways, Kenya Airways and Air France have cancelled flights to some Ebola-hit countries.

South Africa's government last month issued a travel ban for all non-South Africans travelling from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, three of five West African countries battling Ebola. Kenya's government has taken similar action.