In the face of a long chain of crises across Africa,
specialists and suppliers have had to remain vigilant and get creative with
their marketing and selling initiatives to prevent their businesses from
becoming yet another casualty of the continent’s catastrophes.
“Specialist tour operators focusing on Africa have to be
prepared for the peaks and the valleys,” said Dave Herbert, CEO of Great
Safaris. “In the too-frequent valleys, you need to grab market share from the
big, multi-destination operators and keep expenses in check.”
Herbert said that one strategy in times of crises is to work
with suppliers to introduce attractive specials, such as two-for-one deals and
50% off savings, to kick-start bookings.
Another way he said he has managed to keep his business
going is by working more closely with travel agents.
“How do we, as tour operators, survive and prosper in a
world full of violence, wars, terrorism, disease and unbelievable wonder? The
answer lies in targeting the travel counselors who are experienced in dealing
with travelers seeking new experiences,” Herbert said. “The job of a travel
counselor is to gather the facts — not from sensational media — and present
those facts to their clients, including the fact that Africa generally is more
secure than 80% of American cities.”
That message, however, has been increasingly challenging to
communicate, especially in the wake of news earlier this month that gunmen from
the Islamist group al-Shabaab killed 148 people at a university in northern
Kenya. Merely the latest in a series of devastating setbacks for Africa since
the Ebola outbreak last fall, the Kenya killings came on the heels of last
month’s deadly terror attack in the Tunisian capital, Tunis.
The damage to the African continent’s economy, and more
specifically to its tourism economy, has been severe.
Bernard Gustin, CEO of Brussels Airlines, which serves 19
destinations in Africa and continued service to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra
Leone during the height of the Ebola crisis, told reporters this month that
lingering, unjustified fears about the virus are costing the continent billions
Widespread misinformation persists despite the fact that
earlier predictions that the virus would infect millions of people worldwide by
April never materialized. Gustin said that many people around the world
continue to associate Africa with images of healthcare workers clad in hazmat
To counter that image, Brussels Airlines has launched an
"Africa Is Not Ebola" campaign that includes a website, AfricaIsNotEbola.com, an Instagram hashtag, #AfricaIsNotEbola, plus
“Africa Is Not Ebola” pins.
Since a soft launch of the campaign nearly three months ago,
supporters have posted more than 220 #AfricaIsNotEbola images on Instagram,
including shots of wildlife, children, jungles, mountains, beaches and people
Gustin has taken the campaign to government officials,
nongovernmental organizations and to the public.
The airline executive also said that when Ebola flared up,
“very quickly we and Royal Air Maroc were the only ones flying to those
Had the two carriers pulled out, he said, those countries
would have been completely isolated. He said relief agencies had implored
Brussels Airlines to continue service.
At the same time, social media exploded with criticism of
the airline: “They said we were managed by people so greedy they were willing
to bring disease around the world,” Gustin recalled.
Other suppliers that sell Africa are also hoping to spread a
more positive message about Africa.
“For the geographically informed and second-time visitors,
now is a great opportunity to visit Africa, [with] great value for the money,”
said Jim Holden, president of African Travel.
The challenge, he said, is that “to the uninformed, Africa
is one country.”
For example, he said, with regard to the latest shootings on
the border between Kenya and Somalia, “Tourists have never been sent anywhere
near the border. The parks and tourist sites are miles away from the Somalia/Kenya
border. Sadly, those distinctions are too subtle for the first-time visitor to
Holden said that in an effort to win back business, safari
lodge owners in Africa are offering substantial deals, which African Travel is
hoping to pass on to customers as an incentive.
Another bright spot for business has been South Africa,
which, he said, “continues to do well, with fewer perceived security issues and
the strong dollar making for good value.”
But even South Africa has faced challenges of late, including
a recent wave of xenophobic attacks on foreigners, who are being seen as a
threat to local jobs. The CEO of South African Tourism, Thulani Nzima, has
condemned the violence, and tour operators are working to assure travelers that
the destination remains safe.
In another attempt to promote Africa, Extraordinary
Journeys, a New York-based tour operator and Africa specialist, held a press
event earlier this month to market its Zimbabwe product, confronting concern
about tourists traveling there in light of the authoritarian government of
President Robert Mugabe.
But Extraordinary Journeys co-founder Marcia Gordon said,
“The worst thing is to not go, if you care about Zimbabwe.”
Indeed, Africa operators say that same message applies to
most of the continent.
Kate Rice, Nadine Godwin and Dorine Reinstein contributed to