EBOLA: A SHOCKER TO KENYA’S TOURISM

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Ebola-li_pixGuinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, the countries most affected by the outbreak of Ebola virus are geographically far from Kenya, but to the countries we depend on for tourists, Ebola is in Africa and so is Kenya.

The disease has drastically affected domestic economic activities in that part of West Africa and trade between Africa and the rest of the world is not spared either.
The epidemic is scaring away potential tourists and jeopardizing exports of Agro-produce from the continent.  A number of airlines serving these routes have also been hit hard.
Tourism, a vital segment of our economy has been performing badly for a long time. Latest report shows, a declined of 13% in arrivals – 428,585 compared to 497,978 the same period last year. This paints a bleak economic picture of a sector raking in foreign exchange and existential to a big fraction Kenya’s workforce.
As one of the countries that did not issue a travel ban yet alongside Britain, France and the US early this year Germany has not disclosed its position on the Ebola of issue but a cursory check with tour and travel agents shows upward cancellations are constantly trickling in – others pick  Arab countries in the north.
The ripple effect is spreading far and wide. Thirty two major tour operators in the US have lost more than $3M from cancellations. Mr. Andre Steynberg, the Vice President of Sales for Allure Africa announced that in September alone the company lost a total of $350,000 from both postponement and cancellations.
As Governor Amazon Kingi of Kilifi County discovered during his promotion engagement in Italy recently,  the disease is bound to have a profound impact on the ailing and fragile tourism sector.
The Governor was quoted saying that Italians are scared of Ebola in Kenya, an issue Kenya’s ambassador to Italy just needed Press briefing to dispel the fear. Unfortunately,  our diplomats desist from contradicting public opinion in donor countries regardless of the substance another major handicap making them completely oblivious of negative  opinion about their country is the language.
Governments in the EU bloc are seeking effective ways of keeping off the infection from their  border points but public opinion is divided whether to impose total travel ban or to screen people at entry points.
Complicating the issue is the virus incubation period of 21 days, bringing to question the efficacy to screen passengers since some may be affected but are not showing the symptoms at the time of screening. Subjecting passengers elsewhere joined on the way by those from the affected regions is complicating the issue further.
The decision to admit Ebola patients in some German hospitals recently led to public outcry and public debate. People are questioning the wisdom of the hospitals concerned.
The virus has reportedly claimed the lives of 10,000 people but independent observers place the death toll above 30,000. Some have also estimated possibility that 10000 may die every week, if the epidemic is not contained.

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Kenya’s deafening silence is not helping matters either. It is hard to tell whether it is solidarity or simply burying the head in the sand hoping the disease will go away, or waiting for external intervention.
Kenya’s mission abroad have failed the country. None has summoned the Press to inform the public that Kenya is in East Africa, along Indian Ocean – 5,300km away from Ebola contaminated west coast states on Atlantic Ocean which is only 3,600km to   Western Hemisphere or American continent.
Like our diplomatic missions the Africa Union has conveniently gone mum leaving the West it perennially derides for its “imperialistic tendency” to tackle the disease and deliver vaccine and its cure.
It is worth noting that it is the pestilence of the Ebola forcing the West to tame the virus at its source to protect their citizens otherwise Lymphatic filariasis (elephantiasis), Leprosy, Food-borne trematodiases all of which World Health Organisation has classified as tropical diseases would have been long eradicated.
The question now is whether Kenya Government has contingency plans to protect the dying image without feeding the public with glossy projection of rosy future of our hospitality trade.

By Mickie Ojijo

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