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The fear of Ebola that is affecting travel to Africa will begin to ease as people become more informed about the location of the virus and health organisations continue to work at containing it, industry say.
Michael Tollman, CEO of Cullinan Holdings, told Tourism Update: “Our view is that we’ve turned a corner with Ebola; it is perceived as something that is coming under control. They are coming out with vaccinations soon and we are seeing a reduction in the rate in Liberia so there’s a more positive view that there will be a long-term reduction in the impact it has had.”
Tollman said the most significant impact from Ebola had been roughly from December and would run through until May because of forward bookings, but he expected to see a significant improvement in the second half of the year.
Clifford Ross, Chief Executive of the City Lodge Hotel Group, said the group had already seen numbers picking up, specifically from the business travel market at its two hotels in Kenya. The lifting of travel advisories and warnings from many governments on travel to countries that might be prone to transmission of Ebola from West Africa had also helped to change the perception of travel into Africa, he added.
Frank Glettenberg CEO Southern Africa of Private Safaris, said positive international news coverage that Ebola seemed to be getting under control and high hopes for vaccines to become available soon had helped to ease fears. He expected fear to largely subside during the course of the year.
According to Tollman, Ebola has had a higher impact on the US market than on the European market and an even greater impact on the Asian market. “We saw a higher number of cancellations out of Asia than we did out of America. From America there were fewer cancellations but a reduction in bookings.”
The main reason travel to Africa had been affected was due to the poor understanding of where West Africa was in comparison to SA, said Ross. He added that, compared with the European and UK market, the US market got ‘spooked’ more easily.
Glettenberg said there had initially been a 100% dip in bookings from the US market. “The US market collapsed completely at initial stages but is seeing a recovery now. The UK did not seem to be affected all that much.” Overall, Private Safaris saw around 25% less bookings in the last quarter of 2014 and around 20% in the first quarter of 2015.
“In many other markets we see that products designed for the first-time traveller to Africa are suffering, whereas products usually booked by Africa repeaters or aficionados continue to sell well,” said Glettenberg.
Glettenberg, Tollman and Ross all said the new visa regulations had further contributed to a decline in bookings.
“In India and China we’ve been impacted significantly by the visa regulations as well. Let’s say we are down 70%, for example, for China, I would probably say that 30% of that is visas,” said Tollman. “Once the legislation comes into practice it’s literally impossible for people to book from any cities other than Beijing and Shanghai. What’s happened now is that all the agents have taken South Africa out of their marketing material and we saw the impact of that immediately.”
In terms of Ebola’s impact, Tollman believes that some of the larger groups that cancelled will disappear and go to other destinations and some of them will be rebooked and happen next year.
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