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Ebola fears touch South Africa's tourism?

Tuesday, December 23, 2014 - 02:14

South Africa is a world away from West African countries with Ebola but some parts of its economy are beginning to feel the pinch. As Hayley Platt reports some in the tourism sector fear Christmas visitors numbers will be down.

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O.R Tambo international airport in South Africa is one of the world's busiest. 19 million passengers pass through it every year, many at Christmas when its mid-summer. But there are fears the Ebola epidemic could hit visitor numbers. The country is 3,000 miles from the outbreak in West Africa But the airport is on high alert and fewer people are travelling. John Ridler is an industry expert. SOUNDBITE: John Ridler, PR, saying (English) "Large hotel groups, like One and Only have been quoted in the newspaper as having a number of cancellations and that is very worrying. I think their fear and generally the fear of the industry is those are the cancellations we know about." It's a prospect South Africa can ill afford. Its economy has been struggling since a recession in 2008. And GDP contracted again by 0.6% in the first quarter of this year. Fairly robust tourism has helped the overall economy - 9.6 million people visited in 2013 - a rise of almost 5 percent on the previous year. So anything which damages that could hurt, says Mmatsatsi Ramawela, CEO of South Africa's Tourism Business Council. SOUNDBITE: Mmatsatsi Ramawela, CEO of Tourism Business Council South Africa, saying (English): "The rest of the world are geographically challenged when it comes to the rest of Africa, they have no concept of where Johannesburg is, where Cape Town as comparison to Monrovia, to Freetown in Sierra Leon and in Guinea, so with that you find everyone thinking of my goodness Ebola? I am not going anywhere near Africa." Not everyone agrees there is a problem. The Gauteng Tourist Authority - which covers Johannesburg - has seen bookings increase. SOUNDBITE: Barba Gaoganediwe, The Gauteng Tourist Authority, saying (English): "We are quiet shocked to hear those reports, nothing to that effect from our interactions with our tour operators and our booking agents instead we have seen the increase in the bookings ," It's hard to know for sure how big an impact Ebola is having on South Africa's tourism. The true picture will only emerge when data is collected in 2015. And the sector does have one big advantage at the moment - a weak South African rand means visitors are getting far more for their money.

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Ebola fears touch South Africa's tourism?

Tuesday, December 23, 2014 - 02:14