Fears of Ebola Crushing Africa’s Safari Tourism Industry

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A month ago I wrote an article about why now is a good time to go to Africa. When I wrote that piece, Ebola was making headlines, and fear over the deadly virus was just beginning to set in with the general public. I argued then – and continue to do so now – that a downturn in travel to Africa was coming, and that opportunistic travelers could take advantage of the fear and ignorance over the disease to book a once in a lifetime journey at a fraction of the normal cost.

Since then, the bottom has fallen out in the safari tourism industry, with bookings dropping off to almost nothing. Countries such as Tanzania, Kenya, South Africa, and Botswana are all seeing their economies damaged by fear over Ebola, even though they are thousands of miles away from the countries that have suffered the epidemic. In fact, there are European nations that are closer to West Africa, where the virus is most prevalent, than the countries that I’ve named above.

New reports indicate that safari operators are seeing a 20-70% drop off in new bookings for the rest of this year, and into 2015. This is an alarming number for many countries in Africa, who had seen tourism rise dramatically in recent years. In fact, 2014 was poised to have the best travel numbers of all time, as more people planned holidays on safari. But now, fear over Ebola has put the breaks on the tourism economy, most due to a misunderstanding of the geography of Africa.

Make no mistake, Ebola is a dangerous virus, and those traveling to West Africa should take caution, particularly if they are visiting Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone. But the disease has not spread to other parts of the continent, and thus travelers are safe from coming in contact with someone who is infected. Still, there is a misperception that Africa is just one big place, and that all of it is rampant with Ebola. As a result, the entire continent is being lumped together, with dire consequences for the economy there.

As Ebola cases have started to turn up in the U.S., it seems that fear and uncertainty over the virus have reached an all time high. There have been several incidences of planes being diverted due to panic over potential Ebola exposure onboard, none of which have proved to be true as of yet. The general misconceptions over the disease continue to grow, and it seems that there are major concerns amongst the public, even though the chances of contracting the disease are practically nonexistent. It has been sad to watch the reaction people who don’t understand how it is spread, and are deathly afraid that they’ll be exposed to the virus.

All of this leads me back to the premise of the article I wrote last month. Now is a good time to go to Africa, as the predicted drop off in tourism there is happening. That means there will indeed be good deals on flights to the continent, as well as on safaris, Kilimanjaro climbs, and other adventure activities. If you’ve ever wanted to go to Africa, now is the time to start planning. I think if you do a little research, remain a bit patient, and plan properly, you’ll be able to find some incredible deals that will be too good to pass up.

Don’t let fear over Ebola stand in the way of visiting some of the amazing places in Africa. You’ll be just as safe there as you would be back home, and you’ll get an experience of a life time. Definitely take advantage of this opportunity to visit some of my favorite places on Earth. You won’t regret it.

Kraig Becker