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Tumbleweed rolls through West African resorts: Ebola and tourism crisis management

Hermione Nevill's picture



Jean-Marie Gaborit has been operating his beautiful wetland lodge in the Delta de Saloum in Senegal for 12 years, but he says things have never been so quiet. The European winter months are usually the high season for popular West African destinations, with the beaches, hotels and restaurants packed full of sunshine-seeking tourists. "It’s this Ebola" he sighs, and then adds "even though there is none here."
 
It’s the same story in the Gambia, and effects are even felt further afield in Kenya, Tanzania and Botswana. The Hotels Association in Tanzania (with over 200 members) says that business is down 30 to 40 percent on the year and advanced bookings, mostly for 2015, are 50 percent lower. In South Africa, some 6000 kilometers from the nearest Ebola outbreak, arrivals are down this period by as much as 30 percent. In some cases, airlines (such as Korean Air) have stopped running – even to non-affected countries like Kenya. Across the board, Share values of international tour operators have fallen, hotels have closed, and thousands of tourism-industry workers have been made redundant. 
 
The Accommodation Manager at the Baobab Hotel in Saly, Senegal admits he has laid off 160 staff in the last few months: "When we are full, we have a ratio of one employee for one room. We have 280 rooms and right now 100 of them are occupied. I have 20 extra staff that I can’t afford, but their contracts mean that I can’t let them go." About 80 percent of those staff members are from the local area, and they directly support seven to 10 dependents. For countries that rely on tourism for a large part of their GDP and foreign-exchange contributions, the loss of revenue is significant. In the Gambia, for example, where tourism accounts for 13 percent to 15 percent of GDP, the target of 7.5 percent economic growth for 2015 will be missed.
 
Misinformation lies at the heart of the problem. Although many foreign governments have declared Senegal and the Gambia to be Ebola-free, spreading this message to tourists has proved incredibly difficult. Noisier news reports of death tolls, medical-staff shortages and NGO-promoted appeals in affected countries have drowned out other voices. Moreover, those reports play to international prejudices. With the overwhelming foreign perception of Africa as one country, the problem has no boundaries.

The World Bank Group will be supporting the Government of Senegal in implementing a communications strategy with an emphasis on briefings for key tour operators and the provision of hard data. Best practice shows that such management is more effective if it is planned ahead, and if it includes the preparation of a task force involving decision-makers from both the private and public sector – including a public-relations team, a recovery marketing team, an information-coordination team and a fundraising team. Moving into crisis recovery, a series of medium-term resilience measures – such as incentives, matching grants, training and sustained promotion – may be appropriate.
 
Social media has played its part in trying to combat misunderstandings, with Twitter and grassroots campaigns pushing material such as this infographic, but there needs to be a much-better-coordinated response.



Crisis communications consultant Jeff Chatterton has been working with a number of African Tour Operators since the outbreak of the virus. He cites hard information and empathy as two of the most important tools to deploy at this stage of the crisis. According to Chatterton, prospective tourists who are hesitating over an African booking need to feel that their concerns are listened to, acknowledged and understood. Once this has been established, they will be more inclined to engage with fact-based information, which needs to be clear, transparent and accurate. He sees two big problems with tourism businesses: a reactive approach that is not reaching out and communicating to key audiences, and a downplaying of the problem that undermines and belittles consumer. "About the worst thing you can do is dismiss their reality as inconsequential," he says.
 
There is a critical role for government to play in crisis management and disaster recovery. Lessons can be learned from the outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease in the UK in 2001. The UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) identified the direct costs to tourism as a loss of expenditure of between £2.7 and £3.2 billion. At the national level, the tourism industry's representatives blamed the British Tourist Authority for failing to react sufficiently and effectively, without an appropriate crisis-management strategy in place before the outbreak.

For the World Bank Group and other development partners, a greater emphasis on crisis-management support at the sector level could be an important pro-active means of stepping up our engagement with client countries – before disaster strikes. With the rising threat of terrorism attacks across the world, along with their devastating impact on tourist demand, the most prepared destinations will have a competitive advantage and will be better equipped to limit the damage to the economy and to people’s livelihoods.  

For now, hotels in Senegal have slashed their prices and are concentrating on supplying the small domestic market, but operating at a loss is not sustainable for long. The booking season for 2015 is almost over, with no sign of recovery – meaning that businesses such as Jean-Marie’s face at least another 12 months of empty beds. 

What does cheap oil mean for the Arab World?

Shanta Devarajan's picture
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As the price of oil falls, the discussion is heating up on what the impact will be for countries in the Arab World – especially online through the popular Arabic hashtag النفط_دون_50_دولار #    translating to “oil below US$50 . The World Bank’s Chief Economist for the Middle East and North Africa, Shanta Devarajan, weighs in on the conversation.

The Debate: Would the Arab World be better off without Energy Subsidies?

Will Stebbins's picture
The Debate

Governments in the Arab world have long subsidized the price of energy. This gives citizens throughout the region access to cheap petrol and diesel, and electricity supplied at below-market rates. But what has been the real impact of subsidies, and do they justify the huge financial burden they place on national budgets? This is a critical question in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), as the region represents a disproportionate share of the world’s energy subsidies.

Two Scenarios for a Hotter and Drier Arab World—And What We Can Do About It

Maria Sarraf's picture
The establishment of grazing set-aside areas is particularly relevant in times of drought. Dikhil, Djibouti

If you think the summers in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region are hot—think again. Summers are likely to become much warmer. Global temperatures are rising; the question now is by how much and what the impact of them will be. People in the region already face very high summer temperatures—and these could get worse. Compared to the rest of the world, the MENA region will suffer disproportionally from extreme heat.

Beyond Remittances: How 11 Million Migrants from the Arab World can Impact Development

Mariem Mezghenni Malouche's picture
Arne Hoel l World Bank

The Middle East and North Africa region has a large diaspora. According to the latest United Nations estimates, 11 million citizens from the MENA countries lived abroad in 2013. Many of the members of this group hold prominent positions in their adopted countries. They have the potential to contribute to the development of industries in their countries of origin. Executives in multinationals can influence the choice of locations abroad in increasingly defragmented supply-chains. This is especially relevant for members of the diaspora.  Seddik Belyamani, originally from Morocco, was Boeing's top airplane salesman, and was instrumental in converting an initial push-back by Boeing’s executives into an interest and a first mover investment in Morocco. 

Where Will the Jobs Come from in the Middle East and North Africa? (Hint: You need start-ups)

Marc Schiffbauer's picture


A former hotel owner in one of the region’s major cities, who wants to remain anonymous, tells a story that should have had a happy ending. Her 40-room hotel was doing well. It had built a reputation for excellent service. She decided to capitalize on her success and expand the business by adding a restaurant. This would have provided her with another revenue steam and allowed her to attract more customers, especially foreign tourists. Apart from expanding her business, the need for new kitchen and wait staff would have meant jobs for the local community. It would also have meant more business for local suppliers of everything from food to tablecloths.

With such a long list of potential benefits, who would want to stand in the way?

What Smart(er) Politicians Do With Subsidies: Jobs

Heba Elgazzar's picture


What makes smart politicians?  Jeffrey Frankel has an idea.   His recent blog examines the allure, and trap, of universal subsidies.   For one thing, they know that pulling the plug on bad policies should be done sooner rather than later.  The same can be said of other policies related to investment and labor legislation.  Economic democracy is a great thing.  However, beware of misguided routes to achieving it. 

Does Your Country Export What It Should?

Siddhesh Kaushik's picture

Customs reforms have made trade easier in Georgia. Photo - Irakli Tabagari / World Bank.One of the core principles of trade economics is that of “comparative advantage.” First described by David Ricardo, the theory says that countries are best off if they specialize in products that they can make relatively more efficiently – with lower opportunity cost – than other countries. If this happens, the theory goes, global welfare will increase. This concept is more difficult than it sounds, however – as Paul Krugman has pointed out quite eloquently – and benefits from illustration.

Basketball genius Michael Jordan stars in one example sometimes used in textbooks and classrooms: If Jordan mows his lawn faster than anyone else in the neighborhood, he has anabsolute advantage in lawn mowing. But that doesn’t mean that he should mow his neighbor John Smith’s lawn, because that would come at an opportunity cost: in the same two hours it would take Jordan to cut the grass, he could earn much more by playing basketball or making a commercial.

While it is difficult to measure comparative advantage in world trade, one indicator is something called “Revealed Comparative Advantage” (RCA). This is a measure of how a country’s exports compare to those of a bigger group, such as a region or the rest of the world. For example, if a country’s RCA in wheat is high (typically greater than one), that means wheat makes up a higher share of that country’s total exports than it does of the world’s exports. This suggests that that country is a more efficient wheat-producer than the average country.

But countries don’t always produce the products in which they have a revealed comparative advantage. Sometimes Michael Jordan mows the lawn. Let’s take a look at a couple of examples from this new data visualization tool.

Does Your Country Export What It Should?

Siddhesh Kaushik's picture

Customs reforms have made trade easier in Georgia. Photo - Irakli Tabagari / World Bank.One of the core principles of trade economics is that of “comparative advantage.” First described by David Ricardo, the theory says that countries are best off if they specialize in products that they can make relatively more efficiently – with lower opportunity cost – than other countries. If this happens, the theory goes, global welfare will increase. This concept is more difficult than it sounds, however – as Paul Krugman has pointed out quite eloquently – and benefits from illustration.

Basketball genius Michael Jordan stars in one example sometimes used in textbooks and classrooms: If Jordan mows his lawn faster than anyone else in the neighborhood, he has an absolute advantage in lawn mowing. But that doesn’t mean that he should mow his neighbor John Smith’s lawn, because that would come at an opportunity cost: in the same two hours it would take Jordan to cut the grass, he could earn much more by playing basketball or making a commercial.

While it is difficult to measure comparative advantage in world trade, one indicator is something called “Revealed Comparative Advantage” (RCA). This is a measure of how a country’s exports compare to those of a bigger group, such as a region or the rest of the world. For example, if a country’s RCA in wheat is high (typically greater than one), that means wheat makes up a higher share of that country’s total exports than it does of the world’s exports. This suggests that that country is a more efficient wheat-producer than the average country.

But countries don’t always produce the products in which they have a revealed comparative advantage. Sometimes Michael Jordan mows the lawn. Let’s take a look at a couple of examples from this new data visualization tool.

ARAIEQ: Working Together to Improve Education Quality in the MENA Region

Simon Thacker's picture


In Tunis this month, the Arab Regional Agenda for Improving Education Quality (ARAIEQ) held its second annual meetings of representatives from institutions from across the region. The idea for this network is simple enough: Arab countries face a now well-recognized challenge—the need to improve the quality and relevance of their education systems. It therefore stands to reason that they should share solutions. They met to review the progress made in the past year and discuss how to work more closely together in the future. What have they accomplished?

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