As Ebola 'fear factor' eases, African tourism edges back
By Edith Honan
NAIROBI (Reuters) - From the jungle-clad slopes of the Great Lakes to the game parks of South Africa, tourism is beginning to recover as the Ebola outbreak in a corner of the continent ebbs and foreigners overcome their fear of the virus.
The epidemic has been confined overwhelmingly to Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, where at least 8,700 people have died. But it has resonated all across the continent in the form of canceled flights, missed meetings and empty hotel rooms, even though Africa's main tourist centers are further from the Ebola zone than Paris.
Inquiries at Safaribookings.com, a marketplace for more than 1,200 safari companies in east and southern Africa, were down 25 percent during the last four months of 2014, but bounced back in January, with a 20 percent rise compared to a year ago.
"It's really increased incredibly over the last three weeks," said Jan Beekwilder, the company's co-owner. "The surplus is really due to the ending of the crisis."
Several individual lodge operators, in despair when Reuters contacted them in October, also said business improved since experts started talking about the beginning of the end of the epidemic.
A scaling back of the wall-to-wall media coverage of the handful of Ebola cases that occurred in Europe and the United States - where most tourists to Africa come from - has helped.
"Things are better," Hotels Association of Tanzania head Lathifa Sykes said, while echoing the frustrations of many Africans who say Westerners often forget that Africa is three times the size of the United States and made up of 54 countries.
Beyond the three countries at the epicenter, Ebola reached only three others, all in West Africa. Eight people died in Nigeria, six in Mali and none in Senegal, where just one case was diagnosed. The outbreak has been declared over in all three. Continued...