Ebola negative effect on Botswana tourism sector

 

Gaborone – The contribution of the tourism sector to Botswana’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) could decline as local tourism companies are now feeling the economic effects of the Ebola scare and perceptions associated with it.

Reports indicate that before the outbreak of the virus, World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) had projected that the tourism industry, which is growing big, could contribute more than P5 billion to Botswana’s 2014 GDP.

WTCC researchers have noted that there is an increase in the number of travel and tourism activities following the recovery of the global economy.

“Activities also include, for example, the activities of the restaurant and leisure industries directly supported by tourists,” said the researchers.

The WTTC has also indicated that last year the sector contributed P5.2 billion to this country’s GDP.

It also noted that Botswana’s travel and tourism activities exceeded expectation in 2012, after recording P4.8 billion contribution to the GDP from a forecast of P3.5 billion.

Since the outbreak of the virus WTTC has not revised down the figures.

The Minister of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism (MEWT), Tshekedi Khama, also expressed concern that perceptions about Ebola remain a big challenge facing Botswana’s tourism industry.

Speaking at the official opening of the Botswana Travel and Tourism Expo (BTTE) in Kasane recently, Minister Khama said just because some countries in Africa had been affected by the Ebola virus did not mean that the rest of the continent has.

He noted that of late, African countries had decried decreasing income from tourism as more travellers cancel their trips to Africa in fear of the Ebola virus.

“But I want to remind you Europeans that in some cases, you live closer to the virus than we do,” he said to the gathering consisting mainly of Europeans,” Minister Khama was quoted as saying by the Daily News. Minister Khama noted that the issue needed proper education, especially in explaining the steps Botswana had taken to remain Ebola-free.

Speaking at a Press briefing recently the General Manager of Botswana Tourism Organisation (BTO) branch in Germany, Karin Zwiers, said the country’s tourism industry has been hard-hit by the Ebola epidemic, as international travellers cancelled their bookings amid fears that they could contract the disease.

Zwiers said most international travellers are worried about their health safety at the countries they will be travelling to and the fact that they will have to pass through congested airports to reach their destinations.

Despite being free of the virus, Botswana is among African countries which are now shunned by tourists citing fears of being infected.

Some tourism companies operating in the town of Maun, which is the country’s biggest tourist destination complained to Echo newspaper that since the outbreak of the virus there has been a decline in the number of tourists.

African Excursion Tour consultant, Kagiso Austin, has told E-Business that tourists who made bookings earlier this year to visit the country have cancelled their trips.

“The impact of [the] Ebola scare is felt. Majority of tourists, who had planned to come here, are cancelling. Workers are also quitting,” said the tour consultant.

Since the outbreak of the virus about 23 tourists from UK have so far cancelled their visits.

Austin explained that while the country has no cases of Ebola, tourists are worried that some of their flights on their way to Botswana stop over the Ebola infected countries and indicated that the virus could spread into Botswana through the northern part of the country.

He said tourists, who booked to visit Botswana and paid deposits, have cancelled their trips and have since requested refunds.

The company has so far lost around P1.3 million from the cancellation of bookings from international tourists. One tourist is charged P15 000 and tourists usually book for 2-10 days.

Umpengu and Safaris Manager, Kenneth Chika, has also indicated that his company is recording a low number of tourists since the outbreak of the Ebola virus.

He noted that international tourists, who normally bring lots of money, are no longer booking and tourism companies now largely depend on tourists from South Africa.

“There is nothing we can do. Our hands are tight. We also advise them not to come as it is also risky to us. Right now we depend on South Africa,” he said.

Reuters reported in August that the Ebola outbreak in West Africa was putting off thousands of tourists who had planned trips to Africa this year. Most of those who cancelled their trips were Asians. Reports also revealed that international travellers were even cancelling their trips to destinations that are thousands of miles from the nearest infected countries. P1=R1.22 (See also page 19)

December 2014
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