As some of you probably already know, I have recently taken over the adventure and outdoor travel page at About.com. Over the past month and a half, I've been truly enjoying writing on the site, as I get to cover a number of topics that I'm truly passionate about, including travel. Over the weekend I wrote a piece that was posted there entitled "Why Now is the Time to Visit Africa," and I thought that it might be worth sharing here as well.
The gist of the story is that fear and uncertainty over the ongoing Ebola epidemic in West Africa is causing a lot of travelers to cancel their plans to visit the continent, most out of ignorance about the geography there, and the dangers presented by the disease. While it is true that Ebola should be a concern for those traveling in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Nigeria, and Senegal, numerous other countries are seeing their tourism industries decimated by the virus, even though there have been no cases of it reported within their borders. Places like Kenya, Tanzania, and South Africa, which is actually further away from the Ebola outbreak than some European countries.
The number of travelers heading to Africa is expected to drop off dramatically in the months ahead. In fact, there are some indications that the number of flights to sub-Saharan Africa could fall off by as much as 50% by the end of the year. Hotels and tour guides are reporting large numbers of cancellations, as travelers scramble to book their holidays elsewhere. All signs are pointing to massive slowdown to the tourism industry across Africa, which had been growing at an incredibly fast rate over the past three years.
But this slow down presents some opportunities for travelers who understand that the Ebola outbreak is not a threat to those visiting most of the continent. As I pointed out in my article, there are 47 countries in Africa, five of which are being impacted directly by this disease. Most of the others are safe, and welcoming to visitors, and have some amazing things to share with those who come. And if the drop off in tourism is as bad as it is expected to be, there will likely be some amazing travel deals available. KLM has already started offering very affordable rates to a number of countries in Africa, and empty hotels and lodges will be looking to fill rooms any way that they can. That means, that if you've ever wanted to go to Africa, now might be the most affordable time to do so.
Many of the economies in Africa rely heavily on tourism, and this downturn could have a long, and far-reaching, impact on the people that are directly or indirectly employed by the travel sector there. By gong now, we're not only helping to bolster those economies, we're also showing others that there is no reason to fear Ebola while on safari in Kenya or Botswana for instance. It is a reminder that South Africa has seen zero cases of the disease, and is perfectly safe for foreign visitors, and that Zanzibar in Tanzania is unaffected by the disease. Most of all, it is a good opportunity for travelers to visit a part of the world that is rich in history, culture, and natural resources. One that everyone should see at some point.