SA tourism feels effect of Ebola

TOURISM is quickly becoming the first casualty of the Ebola virus in South Africa. Although there are no cases of the deadly virus in the country, scores of Asian tourists have cancelled their trips here, fearing they might contract Ebola during their visit.

SA Tourism said yesterday a group of 1500 tourists from Thailand who were set to visit the country between this month and October had cancelled their trip, with smaller groups from Malaysia, Hong Kong, China and Japan following suit. Channel News Asia reported that five travel agents, operating in Singapore, had cancelled tours to South Africa due to take place between next month and December.

One agency, which had six groups heading to South Africa, allowed them to change their destination to Europe or the US.

Thirteen tour groups requested that bat-viewing be excluded from the itinerary, as fruit bats are thought to be a likely host of the virus. They also asked for game meat to be taken off the menu, fearing Ebola could be spread through the blood of animals.

Super Travels in Singapore, advised its customers not to touch or feed animals in South Africa.

Pretoria tourism expert Martin van Niekerk said Asian tourists were known to be safety conscious.

“They are not adventurous tourists so they scare off very easily.”

South Africa had to market itself as a safe destination nowhere near the affected countries, he said.

Earlier this month, Tourism SA circulated a statement saying that South Africa did not share a border with any of the affected West Africa countries – Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria.

A Durban hotel manager, who did not want to be named, said he was relieved when the National Health Department said yesterday that a South African admitted to Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital at the weekend, had tested negative for Ebola.

The man, 37, a health and safety officer in Liberia, was on leave in South Africa when he was admitted.

Some South Africans are also afraid to travel since the outbreak. Thompsons Holidays said a few customers had put their travels on hold as a result.

The World Health Organisation called yesterday on authorities in countries affected by Ebola to check people departing at international airports, seaports and major border crossings, and stop any with signs of the virus from travelling.

As of yesterday, all Africans required a health certificate to enter Indonesia. The certificate must confirm the traveller has consulted a doctor and tested negative for Ebola. Mumbai hospitals, which specialise in fertility treatment, have restricted the number of South African patients due to Ebola.

Meanwhile, in Seoul, a South African woman was the only African allowed into a Seoul bar – which had banned Africans due to Ebola – because she was white.

The woman, identified as Harriet Harrie, posted a picture on Facebook of a homemade sign outside the bar which read: “We apologise but, due to Ebola virus we are not accepting Africans at the moment”.

The JR Pub owners have since apologised.

South African companies operating in affected countries are also taking safety precautions. – Nivashni Nair and Theunis Strydom

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