Tuesday, 14 October 2014

“Tourism may get sick, but it will never die,”

“Tourism may get sick, but it will never die,” commented one of our guides recently. The comment was a response to my comment on our much lower enquiry rate experienced after the start of the Ebola scare. 

This made me think of the resilience that is Uganda. And indeed this country has had its fair share of hardship, and dysfunction and even unfortunate unnecessary negative press.

Africa is not for "sissies' they say, and tourism in Uganda isn't for the faint of heart. Unfortunately Africa is still seen by some as one country, and even those that can find Uganda on a map only remember its ruthless past.And that is a pity! 

Young Topi in Queen Elizabeth National park Uganda by Corne Schalkwyk 

Its one of the most beautiful countries I have come across, not to mention one of the most diverse. I called it the microcosm of Africa in previous posts, and I stand by that comment. It would be a shame to avoid it, especially since they don't have any cases of Ebola. 
Impala lake mburo national park Uganda by Corne Schalkwyk 

Lots has been written and spoken about the many failures in the ongoing Ebola crisis in West Africa. From the genuine lack of access to basic health to the fact that in most respects it’s the nongovernmental volunteers including guys from Uganda on the ground fighting for our survival.
But not nearly enough has been said about the impact this is having on other countries in Africa, and in this case the ones that don’t have cases of Ebola.

 Yes, travellers in some respects are geographically challenged and don’t know that Uganda or Kenya isn't rife with Ebola. In some respects, they might not even know that it’s not close to the affected areas in West Africa….it’s Africa after all, and isn't that just one country?

East Africa has seen a significant drop in tourism enquiries, making it very difficult for tour operators and destination managers on the ground to even educate tourists. If they don’t ask, how do you explain that its thousands of kilometres away. It does however highlight the fact that the poorer more undeveloped countries need good PR, they actually need destination marketers that have the background to market a country and ensure its spot on a map.

South Africa has done this very successfully, or is it the name? They have less cancellations related to Ebola, although we know they didn't escape the impact. Should we include east into the name Uganda to make sure tourists know where a county is located.

Cheetah brothers in Sabi Sands in South Africa by Corne Schalkwyk  

Border screening measures make it seem as though something is being done, but are wasteful, inconvenient and pointless, says Dr Richard Dawood. Monrovia, Freetown and Conakry – the capitals of Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea – are closer to London than they are to Nairobi, Cape Town or Victoria Falls. And if you missed it .... Uganda! 

Yet the evolving Ebola outbreak in West Africa has already devastated travel to unaffected countries far away, cutting tourism to East and Southern Africa by as much as 40 per cent. Industry experts are fearful of downplaying risks – the lingering memory of John Gummer, Minister for Agriculture at the start of the “mad cow” BSE outbreak in 1990, feeding his daughter a hamburger in a much-ridiculed attempt to allay public fears, looms large.

We also have the bush meat trade issue. It’s probably to blunt to inform a client that although we love the idea of embracing local culture we don’t advise you eat the local bat population. The same goes for our primates....Uganda is actually very fond of its Chimps, and its frowned upon to eat them.We also don’t want to impact on the bat population, as it’s already evident that we desperately need them ....so "NO" killing them is not an option. 

M group Mountain gorillas in Bwindi Uganda by Corne Schalkwyk 

We should however have a look at the emerging or resurgence of viral pathogens and their links with the previously untouched biomes. We are likely to come across hundreds if not thousands of nasty new viruses we don't even know about during our increased push into these biologically diverse ecosystems.

Bwindi Impenetrable forest Uganda 
And as our guide so creatively stated “Tourism might get sick” or more appropriately there will be a downturn but people will travel. Best we look at the things that will help, and evaluate and work on the less urgent aspects highlighted by the disease at a later date once we have a grip on the disease that plunged the international community into a state of fear.

The important facts to keep in mind concern Ebola’s method of spread. You need to be in contact with bodily fluids or blood, thus keep away from infected people unless you are a medically trained person. From the world Health organisation it’s clear that only symptomatic or unwell cases can spread infection. Contact with symptom-free people carries no risk. Ebola is NOT an airborne disease, and no virus has ever “mutated” to change its mode of transmission.

Advise for travellers: Wash your hands, repeatedly and frequently if it is possible. Use sanitizers where possible. And for now try and avoid unnecessary hand shaking and personal contact.

Some advice from African Trade and tourism medical advisor: Dr Richard Dawood, Atta's Medical Advisor is a specialist in travel medicine at the Fleet Street Clinic

How do I rate the risks?
There’s no room for complacency, and it is essential to follow the latest advice from the WHO and UK public health authorities, but I have no plans to restrict my own travels at present. There could be some attractive bargains on offer in East and Southern Africa this winter, and I see no current prospect of Ebola risk in the splendid isolation of a luxury safari or a beachside villa, thousands of miles from the heart of the crisis.

WHO: The latest update on the Ebola virus disease: West Africa and Democratic Republic of the Congo

The outbreak of Ebola virus disease (EVD) continues in an upward epidemic trend in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone in West Africa. The high number of EVD infections in health-care workers continues to be a cause of great concern. The situation in Nigeria and Senegal remains stable with no further cases reported. The recently reported case in the United States has died and follow-up of contacts is ongoing.

On 6 October 2014, the Spanish authorities notified WHO under the International Health Regulations (IHR) that an auxiliary nurse in Spain had been diagnosed with EVD. The health care worker had treated an EVD case infected in Sierra Leone who had been medically evacuated by Spain to Madrid on 22 September 2014, where he died on 25 September.

This is the first documented transmission of Ebola infection in the European Union. Spanish authorities are conducting an intensive investigation of this case, to determine the mode of transmission and to trace those who have been in contact with the health care worker.

A separate outbreak of EVD in Democratic Republic of the Congo, which is not related to the outbreak in West Africa, appears to be under control

Batwa "Pygmy Elders share a comment - The impenetrable forest Uganda by Corne Schalkwyk.