Local travel sector unfazed by Ebola so far

Local travel sector unfazed by Ebola so far

It appears to be business as usual for the local travel industry this week even as isolated cases of Ebola emerged outside of West Africa.

However, if the incidences of such cases rise in popular tourist destinations such as Europe, that could be cause for concern for industry players.

Already, demand for South Africa had started easing in August as news of the deadly virus made headlines.

"West Africa is not a popular tourist destination (for Singapore but) South Africa is," said Alicia Seah, communications director of Dynasty Travel, adding that its bookings for the latter market fell 45 per cent year on year in the fourth quarter of this year.

"Although the distance between West and South Africa is quite far, to minimise any risk factors, travellers are opting a more wait-and-see attitude."

At Chan Brothers, travel demand for South Africa has softened in recent months, but the travel and tour firm has started to see enquiries pick up again, said marketing communications manager Jane Chang.

Over 3,800 people have died of Ebola, largely in West African nations such as Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, according to the World Health Organisation.

With Europe being a popular travel destination, the worry is that more of such cases could crop up in Spain and other parts of the region, Ms Seah noted. Dynasty's bookings for Europe are already up 40 per cent year on year this quarter.

"If the cases escalate, then it may affect the forward bookings for the year-end holiday break."

It was reported this week that a Spanish nurse contracted the deadly virus in Madrid after treating a patient with Ebola, while five more medical workers are under observation as a precautionary measure.

In response to queries from BT, a spokesman for the Ministry of Health (MOH) said that it has been watching the Ebola situation closely, including the new developments in Spain and the US.

"These show that an imported case can never be ruled out. These also show the potential for community exposure from imported cases," said the MOH spokesman.

"As such, MOH has again reminded all hospitals, clinics and doctors, about the importance of vigilance against possible suspect cases and strict infection control practices, when managing suspect or confirmed cases of Ebola virus disease."

In recent months, MOH has been working with the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore, the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority and airport operator Changi Airport Group to issue health advisory notices to those travelling from affected areas at air and land checkpoints.

Changi Airport has also been conducting temperature screening for certain flights from Ebola-stricken countries.

"We have implemented several measures, such as inflight announcements and selectively requesting passengers to fill up health declaration cards as required by government regulations at our stations," said a Singapore Airlines spokesman, adding that the carrier has not experienced any decline in demand for its services to South Africa.

Carriers such as Emirates, British Airways and Air France have already ceased operations to specific Ebola-hit nations in West Africa, in response to weaker demand.

Dubai's Emirates suspended flights to Guinea in August, although Emirates president Tim Clark told Reuters last week that the airline has no plans to stop flights to other affected parts of West Africa.

Demand out of Asia for flights to Africa - via Dubai - has eased amid concerns over the deadly virus, he said, singling out markets such as China, Taiwan and Vietnam.

British Airways reportedly stopped flying to Liberia and Sierra Leone in August as demand for the two Ebola-stricken nations took a dive, while Air France had earlier suspended flights to Freetown, Sierra Leone.

European and US travel stocks have also come under pressure in the last week or so, including shares in International Airlines Group - the parent company of British Airways - and Lufthansa, as well as those in US carriers United Continental and Delta.

Meanwhile, the US government is stepping up screenings for Ebola at New York's John F Kennedy Airport this weekend, which will be extended next week to four other major airports in New York, Virginia, Chicago and Atlanta after the first person to be diagnosed with Ebola in the US died this week.

The UK has also started enhanced screening of passengers at Heathrow and Gatwick airports as well as the Eurostar terminal.

Elsewhere, fears that an Australian nurse had contracted Ebola after returning from Sierra Leone where she was working with Ebola victims proved unfounded, while a British man with symptoms of Ebola died in Macedonia on Thursday.

This article was first published on October 11, 2014.
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