Travelers from the Ebola-affected countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea will now have to go through a special screening when traveling to the United States. So far, the virus has claimed more than 4,500 lives in those West African countries.
With three cases confirmed in the United States, the Department of Homeland Security has instituted special travel precautions. It remains to be seen, however, whether this outbreak will affect the business travel industry in the way that severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) did back in 2003.
"Certainly the latest news reports are drawing more concern about travel, and I think that mood could worsen if the sense grows that this is not getting under control," Michael McCormick, the executive director of the Global Business Travel Association, told The New York Times this week.
During the SARS epidemic, the number of passengers traveling through Hong Kong International Airport declined by 85 percent, and some flights to Asia were reportedly only 20 percent full, according to the Times.
Fear over Ebola contagion has not yet caused this level of distress to the travel industry. In a study conducted by the Global Business Travel Association, 80 percent of members said that Ebola had had zero to little impact on business travel. But with around-the-clock media coverage on the epidemic, the effect could increase.
Last weekend, 500 travelers flew to Copenhagen for the Association of Corporate Travel Executives' three-day conference. In their answers to a questionnaire, half the attendees expressed at least "some concern" over exposure to Ebola and supported a travel ban to West Africa.
Even though travel restrictions have been imposed only for passengers whose trips originate in Liberia, Sierra Leone, or Guinea, travel to the entire African continent has been affected over fear of Ebola. Tourism has slowed down in countries located thousands of miles away from the affected region, such as Namibia, where safaris and eco-tours account for about 15 percent of the country's gross domestic product.
"People have gotten a little lazy about understanding geography," safari tour operator Hayden Turner told the Times.