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.
It’s been a difficult year for the people of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, and all those fighting to end the terrible Ebola epidemic that took thousands of lives, spread fear and destabilized economies. Though the global response to this crisis was too slow, at year’s end, there are hopeful signs that international mobilization is having an impact, and that the countries most affected by the disease are coalescing around the goal of “zero cases.”
In a part of Sub-Saharan Africa where life is far from easy for most people, the Ebola epidemic is the most devastating event in a generation. With per capita incomes ranging between $400 and $700 a year, people living in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone can ill afford Ebola’s terrible toll on survival, health, and livelihoods. World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim was in West Africa last week to pledge our ongoing support to these countries to help them reach the goal of zero Ebola cases.
More than 5 million children are out of school indefinitely due to the crisis, and the number is even larger if university-age students are taken into account. But the crisis is not just the downtime for these millions of students of all ages affected by school and university closures. Its full magnitude is revealed in the loss of learning and the opportunities for progress that are forgone with each passing day.
Change is what development is all about. The hard part, as the well-chosen title of a new World Bank book makes clear, is persuading the right kind of change to put down roots and flourish.
Institutions Taking Root is a collection of success stories about building state capacity in challenging contexts. The common theme of these stories is not success in itself. They move us firmly on from the old ‘cometh the hour, cometh the leader’ cliché. A good harvest takes more than one seed; years of preparation go into the fertile ground that yields it.
The book looks at the committed group of leaders in Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Finance and Economic Development who continued to perform key functions during civil conflict. It considers the pool of leaders who have filled key positions inside and outside The Gambia’s Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education, and yet have held onto a common and consistent vision of policy and implementation.
Imagine a football team at the World Cup, just standing around the field watching as the other team breezes right past them and scores a goal. Without taking action to not only help the sick, but protect the healthy, then we, as global citizens, are letting Ebola win this game of life and death.
According to the World Health Organization, as of Nov. 9, a total of 14,098 confirmed, probable, and suspected cases of Ebola virus disease have been reported in six countries. There have been 5,160 deaths. Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone have seen the highest number of cases.
This week’s links include continuing global coverage of the Ebola crisis response. Each Friday, we share a selection of global health Tweets, infographics, blog posts, videos and more. Follow us @worldbankhealth.
When I heard Aminata Bangura’s story, it sent a shiver through my spine.
The five-year-old recently lost both of her parents to the Ebola virus, and she is now going back to an empty home, not sure whether her extended family members will ever be as kind to her as her real parents, whether her playmates will ever play with her again or whether she will ever have the chance to go to school again.
From August 2002, just months after Timor-Leste gained independence, to April 2006, I was the World Bank’s Country Manager for Timor-Leste and thus eyewitness to an unfolding state-building process. The experience affected me profoundly as a development professional. In the short time I lived in Timor-Leste, and notwithstanding daunting circumstances, I saw some agencies, in particular the Ministry of Health and the Central Bank, grow into institutions that delivered results and broadly gained the trust of the population. When community violence erupted in 2006, the Ministry of Health responded effectively, and the Ministry of Social Solidarity repurposed itself around the drawn out displacement process that followed.
My observation of this process is what inspired Institutions Taking Root, a new report that illustrates how institutions can become effective even in the most fragile of circumstances. The report looks at some public institutions that do manage to deliver results, earn legitimacy among citizens, and forge resilience. While the specific experiences of these agencies vary from country to country, learning more about the practices and policies that contribute to their success can reveal important clues about how institutions grow stronger and take root in fragile contexts.
A woman walks by an Ebola awareness sign in Freetown, Liberia. © Tanya Bindra/UNICEF
As the spread of the Ebola virus in West Africa shows, the importance of reducing inequality could not be more clear. The battle against the virus is a fight on many fronts — human lives and health foremost among them.
But the fight against Ebola is also a fight against inequality. The knowledge and infrastructure to treat the sick and contain the virus exists in high- and middle-income counties. However, over many years, we have failed to make these things accessible to low-income people in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. So now thousands of people in these countries are dying because, in the lottery of birth, they were born in the wrong place.
If we do not stop Ebola now, the infection will continue to spread to other countries and even continents, as we have seen with the first Ebola case in the United States this past week. This pandemic shows the deadly cost of unequal access to basic services and the consequences of our failure to fix this problem.
The virus is spreading out of control in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. As a consequence, our ability to boost shared prosperity in West Africa — and potentially the entire continent — may be quickly disappearing.