In a couple of days, I’ll join leaders from the worlds of business, governments, politics, arts, and academia at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The Forum is one of the premier events for discussing global risks. Many if not most of these risks are identified in the Forum’s annual Global Risks report.
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.
Our Top Ten blog posts by readership in 2014.
This post was originally posted on August 06, 2014
In the wake of the current Ebola crisis, the 2011 movie Contagion (See the trailer here) directed by Steven Soderbergh has repeatedly been cited as one of the best examples of a movie taking on the subject of pandemic disease and managing to educate while providing gripping entertainment. This is no coincidence.Contagion was produced with both A-list stars (Gwyneth Paltrow, Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Kate Winslet, and others) and support from leading public health experts such as Dr. Ian Lipkin who is the inspiration for one of the scientists portrayed in the film, and award-winning writer Laurie Garrett, author of several books including The Coming Plague. Participant Media, founded by Jeff Skoll to inspire social change through entertainment, was a producer, with the Skoll Global Threats Fund, World Health Organization (WHO), and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) providing input as well.
The tagline from the film is “No One is Immune…to Fear.” While one of the early scenes is of a woman dying of a flu-like illness (played by Paltrow) the movie elicits fear not from gruesome symptoms but instead from plot lines and messages that focus on how human responses to these types of public health crises make matters worse. It also showcases the valuable work done by epidemiologists and other public health workers who are the heroes of this film. Contagion communicates these and other lessons effectively using the power of story, a subject recently discussed on this blog.
Can the world end extreme poverty by 2030? Will it be able to avert the worst effects of climate change or stop Ebola? These challenges are among the biggest we face today. In 2014, the World Bank Group tapped its knowledge, finance, and influence to confront global problems.
1) Taking on economic growth
In the wake of the financial crisis, developing countries were the engine of the global economy. In 2014, they faced new risks: lower growth, less financing, and lower prices for their commodities. In January and again in June, the World Bank urged developing countries to get their houses in order. Countries need blueprints to maintain the kind of growth that helped cut extreme poverty nearly in half globally in the last couple of decades. With the financial crisis fading, now is the time for developing countries to strengthen their economies so they can keep reducing poverty, according to the twice-yearly Global Economic Prospects.
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.”
This week’s links include support for UHC and continuing coverage of the global Ebola crisis response. Each Friday, we share a selection of global health Tweets, infographics, blog posts, videos and more. Follow us @WBG_Health.
As we close the chapter on 2014, which is likely to be remembered in history as the “year of Ebola,” it is worth drawing some initial lessons for the future.
Just as a patient with a weak immune system is more susceptible to disease, the Ebola crisis reminds us that a nation with a weak health system is more susceptible to epidemics. This lesson is on our minds not only because of the crippling impact of the worst Ebola outbreak in history, but also because today is the inaugural Universal Health Coverage Day.
Today also marks the second anniversary of the United Nations' declaration in support of Universal Health Coverage (UHC), so that no one should fall into poverty to pay for the health care they need. A global coalition of more than 500 organizations, including the World Bank Group and the Rockefeller Foundation, are engaging citizens around the world in support of this goal as both a human right and a smart investment.
This mobilization toward UHC defies a one-size-fits-all approach, recognizing that diverse contexts will drive country-specific paths. Whatever the path taken, it's indisputable that progress towards UHC will bolster weak health systems.
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.
This week’s links include coverage of World AIDS Day and continuing coverage of the Ebola crisis. Each Friday, we share a selection of global health Tweets, infographics, blog posts, videos and more. Follow us @worldbankhealth.