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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. 

#BestOf2014: Six Popular Environmental Stories You Shouldn’t Miss

Andy Shuai Liu's picture
As we get ready to kick off the new year, let’s recount the voices and stories about how we can enhance the way we interact with our planet. From Ethiopia to Indonesia, we’ve seen our efforts improve lives and help incomes grow as countries and communities strive for greener landscapes, healthier oceans and cleaner air.
 
Take a look back at some of the most popular stories you may have missed in 2014:
 
1. Raising More Fish to Meet Rising DemandPhoto by Nathan Jones via Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0

Aquaculture is on the rise to help feed a growing population. New #Fish2030 report: http://t.co/0fbH4fLDJO http://t.co/Lm5eHsGZaR

— World Bank (@WorldBank) February 6, 2014

The Seeds and Roots of Change

Heather Lyne de Ver's picture

Students in KZ

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.

Development Assistance in Governance and Public Sector Management: Does It Ever Make a Big Difference?

Nick Manning's picture

Mother and boy being attended to by Health Education nurse

Are there examples of large scale development achievements which are likely attributable to development assistance? At the least there is the Marshall Plan (1948-1952), the “Green Revolution,” and global health programs which largely eradicated smallpox. At the country level, Korea, Taiwan, and Botswana are often cited as aid success stories with remarkable economic progress following significant aid infusions. So the summary answer is probably (and the answer might be more affirmative if we addressed the perennial problem of poor data collection). But if we apply the additional filter of “what did this have to do with assistance concerning governance and public sector management?” the answer is, at best, maybe.

Taking the example of the major public health advances supported by donors, advances in the measurement of health impacts in the early 2000s led to major costs savings and efficiencies in HIV/AIDS and malaria programs, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative had clear impact, the annual Human Development Reports have charted some truly outstanding areas of progress and there has been some, halting, progress towards attainment of the Millennium Development Goals.  However, it seems that few of these gains seem have deep roots in the improved performance of governments. Development assistance seems able to trigger improvements through standalone arrangements outside of the public sector and through logistical efforts to move material (pumps, vaccinations, and medical supplies). It does not seem to be so good at large scale governance and public sector management (GPSM) improvements.

Transport networks: Where there is a Will, There is a Way

Marc Juhel's picture
The transport sector contributes between 5 and 10% of gross domestic product in most countries, so the question of how to integrate transport networks for sustainable and inclusive growth is a crucial one.

And that is precisely one of the main topics that we discussed at the International Transport Forum in Leipzig during a session on Integrating Transport Networks for Sustainable Growth and Development. The panel also included Morocco’s Vice-Minister of Transport; the Head of Transport from the Latin America Development Bank (CAF), and the CEO and Chairman of the Management Board of Deutsche Bahn AG.

The first unexpected development happened when the moderator showed up with a fifteen-minute delay, having been trapped… in a Deutsche Bahn train stopped on the tracks between Berlin and Leipzig following an unfortunate encounter between a bulldozer and a catenary cable. To be fair, the incident had little to do with the quality of the railway service and was quickly resolved. That is what resilient transport is about.

The Tobacco Dilemma: Corporate Profits or Customers’ Health?

Patricio V. Marquez's picture


Photo courtesty Creative Commons

For those of us who have been impacted by the death of loved ones due to the negative health consequences of smoking, the recent announcement by Larry Merlo, the CEO of the U.S. pharmacy chain CVS, to stop selling tobacco products in the chain’s 7,600 stores, was a ray of hope and a step toward a future when public health concerns trump short-term profit motives.
 

The King Baudouin African Development Prize

Kristina Nwazota's picture
The King Baudouin Foundation has just announced that it is accepting nominations for its 2014-2015 African Development Prize. The Prize awards innovative initiatives that help local communities take development into their own hands and that improve quality of life. The Prize is worth 150.000 Euros and is awarded every other year. Previous winners include women's rights advocate Bogaletch Gebre of Ethiopia and Dr.

Why I’m More Optimistic than Ever about Biodiversity Conservation

Valerie Hickey's picture
Conservation biology was baptized as an interdisciplinary problem science in 1978 at a University of California San Diego conference. But the conservation movement precedes this conference by at least a century, when the first national park was established in Yellowstone in 1872 and signed into law by U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant. Both the academic discipline and the practice of conservation have had two things in common for a long time: they remained steadfast to their original mission to protect nature and their proponents were largely American and European and mostly middle class. 
 
But nothing stays the same forever.
 

End Discriminatory Laws, and Transformative Change Can Follow

Tazeen Hasan's picture

A woman in South Africa. © Trevor Samson/World BankIn September 2013, four elderly sisters in Botswana were finally and definitively allowed to remain in the ancestral home where they had spent most of their lives — the result of their own tenacity and determination that a young nephew could not step in and take ownership of a property they had lovingly maintained.

This landmark decision by the highest court in Botswana, the Court of Appeal, followed five years of efforts by women’s networks and legal associations who helped the sisters bring their claim. The judges decided that customary laws favoring the rights of the youngest male heir were simply out of date.

“The Constitutional values of equality before the law and the increased leveling of the power structures with more and more women heading households and participating with men as equals in the public sphere and increasingly in the private sphere demonstrate that there is no rational and justifiable basis for sticking to the narrow norms of days gone by when such norms go against current value systems,” wrote Justice Lesetedi of the Botswana Court of Appeal.

The reform of discriminatory laws can lead to transformative change.


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