Just days after the announcement from the Ugandan Ministry of Health of cases of Ebola in the region of Kibaale in the west of the country, reports of widespread cancellations from prospective tourists are already emerging. It has raised serious concerns as to the immediate and long term effects of such an outbreak on the budding Ugandan tourist industry and comes at the peak time for visitors to the area.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) and foreign embassies have urged people to remain calm, but local tour operator John Hunwick has said that the mere presence of the deadly virus has already been enough to put people off. "Tourists are leaving because people are scared," he said. "All tour operators are experiencing the same. What is going to happen is that future bookings will not be there."
Ebola is a virus caught via direct contact with the bodily fluids of someone already infected with symptoms including a high fever, sore throat, weakness, and joint and muscle aches, followed by diarrhea, vomiting and dehydration. The risk to tourists of catching the virus is very low, providing all contact with infected patients is avoided. The Uganda Tourism board has issued a statement, reassuring tourists that "Uganda is still safe" and that the containment of the disease is under control.
The area of the reported outbreaks is home to the Kibale Forest National Park, famous amongst travellers and biologists alike for its chimpanzees and rich primate populations. But a total of 20 cases and 14 deaths mean that the park may be struggling to keep visitors, with locals also leaving the area to avoid contact with the untreatable virus. The Daily Nation newspaper in neighbouring Kenya reported one resident, Omuhereza Kugonza, as saying "We have to move to safer places because we can easily get infected by this disease here."
This outbreak is the latest of several in Uganda in recent years, but the full effect of this particular outbreak on the tourism industry may be seen later this year, when Uganda celebrates its 50th anniversary of independence. The government has been promoting the event to tourists in the hope that they will come to witness the festivities in October.
The editorial team.