Ebola to hit Cape tourism where it hurts

2014-11-16 15:00

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South Africa may be Ebola-free, but the virus is poised to hit the country where it hurts: in the pocket.

Holiday-makers from Europe, the US and especially Asia are ditching travel plans to Africa – and South Africa – because they’re terrified of Ebola.

Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene last week revealed that the government had allocated an extra R33?million to prevent the epidemic’s spread to South Africa.

But this may be too little too late for Cape Town’s tourism sector, which faces crippling losses over the summer season – more than half of the bosses in the industry reported booking cancellations in a recent survey.

The city’s posh five-star One&Only hotel has noted cancellations, while Tsogo Sun group CEO Marcel von Aulock warned shareholders to expect a fall in occupancy because of Ebola panic, Business Times reported.

Local tourism bosses are working around the clock to allay potential visitors’ fears. Cape Town Tourism has issued several statements urging people not to panic.

Go2Africa, which tailor-makes southern and east African holidays for well-heeled international clients, has been hard hit.

It is at pains to explain to travellers that Cape Town is further from the epicentre of the outbreak than, for instance, London or Rome.

“We know that Ebola is scary and understand that many people are worried about the outbreak,” says Go2Africa operations manager Catherine Silberstein.

“None of our destinations is in west Africa. We do not route flights through the outbreak region, and we keep our clients informed and updated with the facts.”

Asian travellers are particularly panicked about heading to African countries as Ebola touches a raw nerve – it’s reminiscent of the devastation wreaked by the Sars outbreak in China in 2003.

This week, Enver Duminy of Cape Town Tourism said their Asian trade contacts and tour promoters had noted “significant cancellations” of up to 90% each due to fears around Ebola.

It’s not just bigger tourism businesses that are threatened.

On Greenmarket Square, Noubactep Fannwoui (41), who is from Cameroon and sells beads from Ghana, is bracing herself for a bad season.

Fannwoui has come to rely on doubled and even trebled summer sales to carry her through the winter.

She usually earns R300 a day and up to R700 in high season. It costs R440 a month to rent space on the square, a Mother City landmark popular with tourists.

Fannwoui told City Press that this year she may have to work as a hairdresser on the side to make ends meet and to pay for her three sons to attend Milnerton Primary School.

Another standkeeper, 48-year-old Yaser Ali from Sudan, concurs: “When the sales go down, many other things will [get worse]. I mean, school fees and rent. It’s going to be tough.”

Cape Town’s Economic Value and Tourism Report, released in June, says 37?551 people are permanently employed in the city’s tourism sector, and there are 15?130 temporary workers.

Last week, Dr Peter Salama, global emergency coordinator for Ebola for Unicef, told journalists: “This is a twin epidemic. It is the epidemic of a virus, but also an epidemic of global fear and ignorance.

“And with fear and ignorance, sadly, comes stigma and discrimination. We must tackle both epidemics to be successful.”

On Wednesday, the World Health Organisation announced that Ebola has killed 5?160 out of 14?098 people infected across eight countries in west Africa.

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