Thursday, September 25, 2014

Ebola virus scares away safari tourists. Is this impacting Tanzanian tourism?

With the media attention on the spread of the Ebola virus; is this having an affect on Tanzanian tourism?

Safari planning expert, Julian Carter-Manning, of Yellow Zebra Safaris shares his point of view.

Question: What is it that makes a Tanzania safari so special? 

We operate safaris in all the major safari destinations but it is the quality of safari on offer in Tanzania, coupled with the diversity of its parks and safari experiences that make Tanzania such a popular destination. 

The sheer quality of Tanzania's safari is undeniable. Home to the major safari parks of the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater, as well as Kilimanjaro and Zanzibar,Tanzania has four of Africa's most iconic sites. 

The Serengeti is the mother of all safari parks, and where else can you go on a Big Five Safari in an extinct volcano the same day that you start to climb up Africa's highest mountain? The Great wildebeest Migration in itself is a huge attraction, and so are the chimpanzees of the Mahale Mountains, and the crystal clear waters and pure white sand beaches of Zanzibar! 

Tanzania's safari is then the most diverse of any destinations we operate trips. If you take Botswana or South Africa for example then the vast majority of travellers will only go to one specific safari region within that country. For South Africa that area will be the Kruger National Park where as for Botswana it would be the parks centered in and around the Okavango Delta. 

However if you are considering a trip to Tanzania then you have the famous reserves in the north of the country, the quieter slower paced southern circuit and also the 'wild' western circuit. In summary, in Tanzania you have three safari 'circuits' to choose from where as in many other destinations you often only have one! What's even more interesting about Tanzania is that these three areas cater for different styles of traveler. Northern Tanzania for example, works well for a first timer to Africa where as Southern Tanzania caters for the safari connoisseur, or the adventurous first timer who is looking for something different.

Each of these three safari circuits can then easily be linked with a high quality beach stay, which is another of Tanzania's main attractions. In our opinion it is the continent’s finest destination for safari and beach trips.

The final point to mention is that if you choose your lodges carefully, then Tanzania can be an incredibly good value safari destination when you compare it to the other leading safari destinations.

Q - Is the Ebola epidemic in West Africa a risk to Tanzania?

The first thing to say here is that as far as we are aware there have never been any instances of Ebola in Tanzania.  I would like to stress that I am no doctor, and so the views I express here are simply my own personal opinions from an interest in Ebola itself, and my company’s responsibility to our clients. 

Over the last few months it is true to say that we have noticed an increase in the number of clients concerned by the Ebola virus spread in West Africa, however at present we have no concerns regarding our clients traveling to Tanzania. 

It is very important to put this into some perspective. During this current outbreak there have been no reports of Ebola in the whole of East Africa, let alone Tanzania. The suspected cases in Kenya turned out to be negative and strict travel screening has been placed for people traveling from ebola affected areas.

There have been a number of posts and forums online stating that the epicenter of this virus is well over 5,500km from Tanzania. The argument is that London, at approximately 4,900 km away is closer, Brazil, at approximately 3,000km is closer, Spain is closer, France is closer etc. It is an 'argument', however whether that really helps travelers gain more confidence is debatable, especially considering most travelers simply look at the fact that airlines fly across Africa daily.

With the ease of air travel across the entire planet, Ebola is a potential threat anywhere. But you then have to consider the fact that Ebola is not an air born disease. That is not to say that there is no threat of Ebola being moved cross country through aviation - as the cases in Nigeria underline - but it is to stress that Ebola can only be transferred through human-to-human transmission. Infection results from direct contact (through broken skin or mucous membranes) with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected people, and indirect contact with environments contaminated with such fluids (source WHO), so the concern of travelers catching Ebola on a plane is really very small indeed.

To put this in perspective you could well be on a plane or even walk though the epicenter of the epidemic itself right now, and not catch Ebola. The BBC recently released an hour long documentary about the current outbreak. The Horizon program, 'The Search for a Cure', stated that every single case could be traced back to the first case. In summary, it is a contact disease, in a sense similar to the spread of HIV if you were looking for a comparison....i.e. through bodily fluids.

The reality is that Ebola primarily spreads overland. Then, the distances of Tanzania from the affected areas becomes much more relevant. Couple this with the fact that it is far from easy to travel by land from West to East Africa, the chance of Ebola spreading to Tanzania is in my opinion a small one. This fact is backed up by the fact that outbreaks in Uganda over the last 20 years, albeit significantly smaller than the current West African outbreak, never reached Tanzania. Uganda is significantly closer to Tanzania than any of the current infected areas!

We have been advising our clients to carry on as normal and are carefully monitoring the situation. We simply don't believe that at present there is any risk to our clients traveling to Tanzania. We obviously take the 'threat' very seriously but with clients traveling across Tanzania right now, we are carrying on our safari operations as normal.

We are members of the African Travel and Tourism Association and receive daily updates on Africa as a whole. It is important to stay on top of any news and any changes in the current situation in West Africa. Ultimately the key is to stay well informed. Websites like the World Health Organisation and Doctors Without Borders offer updates and great sources of current, high quality information.

We would advise any travelers to Tanzania to contact their travel company and ask them for their own opinion. It then goes without saying that we also always encourage clients to take out good quality travel insurance. 

About the author
Julian Carter-Manning is the Co-founder and Director of Yellow Zebra Safaris. He is the lead designer of ‘on the ground’ operations for safaris in Tanzania and across the African continent for Yellow Zebra Safaris. You can contact him via the company website at

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