OnSafari: Seychelles Style

OnSafari: Seychelles Style

JimAtHonestyBarDown one of the world’s most beautiful beaches, Anse Lazio, past the boyfriend doing a photo shoot of his girlfriend, past the Rasties selling organic coconut elixir, through gorgeous sand paths around huge artistic boulders leading from one spectacular beach to another, to the end of the cove is Honesty Bar.

Reached only by foot, tucked into the thick mangrove and wild mango forests of Praslin, you find the price list, stand behind the bar, make your drink or pull it out of the fridge, and put the cash in a plastic dish labeled “change.”

Read more

Test for Tanzania

Test for Tanzania

grantprotestwashingtonTanzanian tourism is crashing following the country’s refusal to apologize for wrongly jailing an elderly California couple on trumped-up charges of giraffe poaching.

Thousands of dollars in bribes went to jailors, judges and other officials before Jon and Linda Grant were released from three days in a horrific Dar-es-Salaam lockup last March. Thursday, U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier took the couple to Washington “to clear things up,” but Tanzanian officials barred them from entering the embassy.

Tanzanians have a very short time to get this right before suffering enormous losses economically and diplomatically. The details of this incident are going viral.

Read more

Gimme a break!

Gimme a break!

TrumpTerrorWhen asked if going on safari was safe my rejoinder has been, “Well of course it’s not as safe as Disneyland.”

Everything’s perfectly arranged: an angry son of an Afghan immigrant who most psychotherapists think is a closeted gay man; high-powered weaponry you can buy online; an obese anti-terror bureaucracy incapable of stopping carnage; wildly dancing happy go-luckies under a strobe deemed sexual deviants by local evangelists; and the icing on the cake: hated presidential candidates who know beyond doubt that their opponent is the cause.

Did you watch the Tonys last night? Not even close.

And everything that needs to be said already has, so all we can do is repeat:

Terrorism, or the probable hurt or disruption from terrorism is greater in America than anywhere in Africa. Some blanket generalization that you might employ to not travel to Africa because “it’s not safe” couldn’t seem more ludicrous than on this terrible Monday morning.

Your belief that terrorism is worse “somewhere else” is one of the reasons it’s getting worse. Terrorism grows on itself. It’s the cancer you’ll never have. Your denial is its chief accomplishment.

Terrorism is an incredibly daunting phenomenon. It’s not easy to understand why someone becomes a kamikaze. It’s similar to trying to understand why someone commits suicide. So we grasp for shortcut explanations, and that just short circuits our need to explore and understand its complexities.

The most published news story in Africa about Orlando was by Agence France Presse: “With many victims of the carnage yet to be identified… Trump wasted no time in harnessing the assault to his political advantage.”

How does Trump “harness the assault?” With shortcuts like “Radical Islam”, “Political Correctness”,“Muslims”,“Weak Response:” buzz words that seem to relieve us of any responsibility to figure it out.

It’s so easy to exploit things which are difficult to understand like terrorism for political advantage.

A South African was killed in Pulse. Plenty of Americans have been killed by terrorists since 9/11 but the vast, vast majority have been killed in the U.S.

“Americans have … willingly surrendered their civil rights because they are frightened,” writes a Kenyan today.

Don’t we fight ISIS because they deny human rights? So we fight ISIS by giving up our rights? Doesn’t that mean ISIS has already won?

It’s easier for someone to get a high-powered weapon than food, Pope Francis told a convocation today.

These are very complicated issues that can undoubtedly help us understand and prevent terrorism. But you’re not going to get quick explanations at a political rally or on Meet the Press.

When deciding what world press agency would give the most balanced report about Orlando, the South African moderate newspaper, The Cape Times, chose the Chinese press agency Xinhau.

So the stage is set. The worst terrorism on earth at Disneyworld. Tickets now on sale.

Safari Favorites

Safari Favorites

SafariAfricaWhat were my favorites in the two-month safari I just completed in Africa?

I guided 40 different people on six different itineraries into the part of the continent I call “Safari-Africa.” It was my 40th year guiding and nothing we did was new to me. In fact for quite a few of these very special clients, it wasn’t entirely new to them, either.

That gives me a special edge critiquing safari choices because I can meld my own lengthy experience with the reviews expressed by my own experienced clients.

One thing struck me as it never had before: Air schedules and regional airlines have improved so dramatically that I’m dropping my long-expressed recommendation that you not mix and match widely separated areas.

Of course any time you step onto an airline – even the best of them – you risk delay and disruption, but no longer as certainly in Safari-Africa as only ten years ago.

And any time you step onto an airline your cost goes up.

So if you accept the added risk and cost, then visiting Victoria Falls and the Serengeti in the same trip is as reasonable as visiting the Grand Canyon and New York city in the same trip.

My personal preference continues not to do so, since I know despite protestations from potential clients that this is “likely the only trip they’ll ever take to Africa,” statistics don’t bear them out. The majority of safari travelers from America take multiple trips to Africa.

I also prefer slower, more extended visits wherever I go in the world to “if it’s Tuesday it’s Brussels.” Yet I concede that “if it’s Tuesday it’s VicFalls” now fits into reasonable travel planning.

Several of my long-held views about where you should go on safari were confirmed:

(1) For the most wildlife, it’s East Africa over southern Africa.

(2) For the more varied experience go to southern Africa. Most every day game viewing can be substituted with great cities and fascinating history or trains, spas, museums, good dining and entertainment.

(3) If accommodation and service — overall stressless touring is very important, stick to southern Africa. Don’t get me wrong: Stressless touring is a lot more likely in East Africa than most travelers expect, and from time to time it even exceeds the norm in southern Africa. But as a general rule southern Africa is more reliable and provides better services.

(4) It’s expensive. I wish this weren’t the case, and it wasn’t in the past. But today a safari is one of the most expensive vacations you can take. Like any expensive destination there are cheap offers, but avoid them. They get you little more than being able to say, “I’ve been there.”

If you can’t afford $500 per person per night, don’t try. That’s the minimum. Most game viewing safaris today approach $1000 per person per night.

(5) Finally need I say it? A well-organized holiday to any part of Safari-Africa is today as safe as traveling to Europe. In fact given the tragedies in Paris and Brussels, it’s fair to say right now it’s safer.

Below is where I’ve been and what I’ve just done. I’ve shown my own favorites, but they might not be yours! Every traveler and trip is different. My favorites might change at a different season for a different set of clients.

Email and I’ll be happy to help you design your perfect safari!

Favorite Places:
1. Serengeti
2. Samburu
3. Kalahari

Best Game Viewing Countries:
1. Tanzania
2. Kenya
3. Botswana

Best Game Viewing Parks:
1. Serengeti
2. Ngorongoro
3. Maasai Mara

Best Wilderness Properties:
1. Ndutu Lodge
2. Saruni Samburu
3. Governor’s Camp

Best non-Wilderness Properties:
1. Gibb’s Farm
2. Lanzerac
3. Tongabezi

Least Stressful/Most Comfortable:
1. South Africa
2. Botswana
3. Kenya

Most Friendly Countries:
1. Botswana
2. Kenya
3. Tanzania


February & March 2016 Safari:

KENYA
Nairobi/Karen: Norfolk Hotel, House of Waine
Amboseli: Tortilis Camp
Tsavo West & East: Galdessa Camp
Aberdares: Aberdare Country Club, The Ark
Samburu: Saruni Lodge
Maasai Mara: Governor’s Camp

TANZANIA
Arusha: Rivertrees Country Inn
Taranagire: Oliver’s Camp
Manyara: Gibb’s Farm
Ngorongoro: Sanctuary Camp
Serengeti: Ndutu Lodge, Angata Camp
Kili Airport: KIA Lodge

SOUTH AFRICA
Johannesburg/Sandton: Michelangelo Hotel
Blue Train: Pretoria to Cape Town
Cape Town: Victoria & Alfred Hotel
Stellenbosch: Lanzerac Hotel

BOTSWANA
Kalahari: Tau Pan Camp
Okavango/Moremi: Camp Moremi
Chobe: Savute Safari Lodge

ZAMBIA
VicFalls (Livingstone): Tongabezi

Violence Check

Violence Check

Westgate mall attackIs it safe to travel to Nairobi? Is it safe to travel to LA?

To date this year there have been 352 mass shootings in the U.S. which have killed 461 people and wounded 1309. To date this year in Kenya there have been two (that’s “2”) mass shootings which have killed 161 people and wounded another 113.

The murder rate in Kenya (including from “terrorism”) is 6.8 per 10,000 inhabitants. This is less than the murder rate in South Carolina, Michigan, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico and about the same as the murder rate in Delaware, Maryland and Missouri.

Are you considering a vacation to Carolina’s outer banks, to the Mardi Gras, to our nation’s capital or maybe to a concert at Branson? Better watch out.

Why is Kenya’s murder rate lower, and its deaths from terrorism lower than in the U.S.?

Why is the U.S. so violent?

U.S. residents own more guns than residents of anywhere else in the world, 50% higher than the next two highest nations, Yemen and Serbia, and three times as many as major European countries such as France and Germany.

And 17½ times as many guns as in Kenya.

Ridiculous, Simply

Ridiculous, Simply

carsonstoneageTwo notable attacks this morning, one on the Radisson Blu hotel in Mali and a powerful Nigerian air force offensive against Boko Haram, clarify what terrorism means to many Americans when overlaid Paris.

Up to a dozen masked gunmen driving cars with diplomatic license plates stormed Bamako’s principal expatriate hotel this morning, forced their way in, briefly interrogated a few people who were allowed to leave after reciting sections of the Koran, then rounded up others in what at this moment remains a hostage situation.

Next door, Nigeria’s powerful air force blasted to smithereens “an outdoor gathering” that it claimed was of Boko Haram terrorists in the east of the country.

When these two events play themselves out, over no more time than it took the Paris events to unfold, many more people will have been killed than in Paris, and many more terrorists as well.

And I’ll wage you dollars to donuts it will receive a fraction of the attention, even in this currently charged atmosphere so sensitive to security and terrorism.

Why?

First, because the vast majority (say 90%?) of media consumers take little interest in Africa.

Second, media consumers presume that bad things happen more in Africa than where they live. It’s not as unusual.

Third and most sinister, media consumers impugn African failures at moral governance – a sort of “they got what they deserve.”

I doubt you will disagree with the first reason.

The second is almost a tautology; I think we’ll agree.

I may get resistance to my third from holier-than-thou effetes, but the more honest among us will be unable to completely shed this characterization. We may resist our weakness to believe punishment is both just and a course of remedy, but we must admit to it.

So while it’s not a satisfying analysis and hardly one that naturally leads to any rectification of the problem, it stands solid.

Let’s own the situation and our frailty at grappling with it, and then let’s roll up our sleeves and figure out what to do about.

Here’s when I get mad: When instead of confronting this terribly complex situation head-on, we look for shortcuts out of dealing with it.

Today on PBS’ Morning Edition, the intellectual weakling Steve Inskeep asked his even worse reporter assigned to the Mali attack, the ever confused Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, ‘Is this attack linked to anything more global?’ (I can’t remember the exact words. That’s my characterization: Listen to the link.)

Then in a terribly disappointing followup, the good journalist Renee Montagne asked Gerard Araud, France’s ambassador to the United States, if the Mali attacks were linked to anything globally.

To his eternal credit there was an unnatural radio pause before he answered that he thought the situation was more “local.”

Americans want everything linked to the Joker. They want Syrian refugees to be trained by Him. They want the Syrian Opposition (which yet isn’t organized) to fight Him. They want then “to wipe him out.”

The trouble in the world today is, first it’s not more than it’s probably always been, but second, it’s more deadly because of the geometrically increased number of available weapons, and third: it’s way more complicated than before and if linked to anything singular it’s probably climate change.

I’d love to hear how the Republicans plan on wiping out Climate Change.

There is no Joker. Massive increases in technology allow us to know about so much more of the conflicts in the world than we used to. Huge illogical wars like those in Afghanistan and Iraq coupled with the end of the Cold War have thrown unimaginable amounts of weapons out there to be picked up.

So throw all that on your chess board and stop trying to simplify it.

Prayers Are Not Enough

Prayers Are Not Enough

prayers“Is it safe?” is the question I get most often from travelers considering visiting Africa.

Today is the anniversary of the ebola outbreak in West Africa. What has transpired since then?

11,331 deaths from ebola. Around 30,000 gun deaths in the U.S., of which nearly the same number of ebola deaths were homicides including about 300 mass shootings. What else?

The most amazing panic by Americans, especially conservatives, that ebola was doomsday. Billions of dollars of unnecessary and unworkable precautions were spent. The “ebola threat” consumed the American psyche. Travel to Africa stopped.

When a potential vacationer asks me if “it’s safe” that person means much more than those few words, and it’s hard for me to answer.

Statistically, it’s safer than driving on the interstate, but that’s trivial because the questioner feels confident driving the interstate … whether she should or not. He believes “the chances” of his being in an accident are small, because he practices safe driving, knows the way, and maintains his vehicle.

In that sense what he’s asking me: Does the vacation you envision for me carry little risk vis-a-vis all the vacations out there; do you undertake due diligence in protecting your clients; and do you have experience and knowledge?

It still doesn’t matter that I can convince her the answer is “Yes.”

Americans’ perceptions, I believe, more than any other culture’s are formed by the media they watch, the spiritual leaders they trust, and the politicians they hate.

We are truly as impressionable as we believe we are free.

There is evil in the world and there’s a lot of money to be made with evil-ness. The manufacturers of weapons, the owners of cable, the paymasters of our politicians are all heavily invested in evil.

There’s no better market for them than us.

Which to Visit? Kenya or Tanzania?

Which to Visit? Kenya or Tanzania?

KenyaOrTanzaniaMy five months in Africa ended this week. If you’re trying to decide between visiting Tanzania or Kenya, I’ve got the answer.

My answer, if you’ve got the cash and time, is both. But if you’re watching your vacation dollars and have limited time, the answer is Kenya.

Here’s why.

First of all why does it take more time and money to visit both countries? The two countries share almost a 500 mile-long border with quite a few border posts, and much of the border actually goes right through abundant game controlled areas.

This isn’t just an issue of the additional costs of visas or shots.

The answer is because the two countries have intentionally made it difficult for tourists to visit them both on the same trip. Both countries believe if they force you into an all-or-nothing situation, they’ll be better off.

Since 1979 the border posts that fall in game controlled areas have been closed to tourist traffic. So, for example, the most important one, the border between Kenya’s Maasai Mara and Tanzania’s Serengeti, isn’t just closed, it’s now grown over with jungle.

The Sand River bridge which used to deliver tourists between the two countries is ready to collapse. I wouldn’t use if I could. (Click here for my blog that explains why this happened in 1979 and has never changed since.)

So to travel from one game park in one country to another game park in the other country, you have to go back to a border post which allows tourist crossings, and this usually means traveling backwards a lot.

The cost, for example, to travel from a camp on the southern bank of the Sand River in Tanzania, to one you can see across that same river in Kenya, is about $600 per person and at least 8 hours if you fly the whole way.

It will take at least the entire day, and that often doesn’t make sense, because if you try to do it in a day, you’ll have to leave at the break of dawn and won’t arrive in the other country until late in the afternoon/early evening, yet you’ll be paying full game viewing fees (twice!) for each country on a day that you won’t have any time to do game viewing!

So die-hards wanting to see both countries recognize that it’s better to do something else in between, breaking up the long circuitous journey, if that’s nothing more than just seeing a city like Nairobi. And that’s where the concept of needing more time starts.

And then you get into the problem of having to whittle away principal attractions in each of the countries to make enough time to see them both, or if accepting only the very prime attractions in each country, you’re looking at a safari of more than two weeks.

Add to this that “open-jawing” your international air fare (flying into one country but returning from another) is considerably more expensive than simply roundtripping one.

As a general rule, you’ll need 20-25% more time and money for the same amount of sightseeing and game viewing if you visit both countries instead of only one.

Both Kenya and Tanzania have a superb list of incredible attractions, game viewing and otherwise. If they opened their borders a tourist could approach them both as a single country, East Africa.

But they haven’t, and they won’t in my opinion. So I’m beginning to think that most travelers conscious of their travel budget and holiday time ought to choose one or the other and might do so realizing they’ll return another year to see the other one!

The same strategy that most Americans apply now to Europe’s many diverse nations ought to be applied to East Africa.

So if you’re contemplating a “first time safari” for next year – which country should it be?

Kenya.

Here’s why.

1. Kenya is growing more stable than Tanzania.
Safety, and even more importantly, the perception of safety is probably the single-most important factor when people choose an exotic destination to visit.

Last month, President Obama visited Kenya. Last month, the British government removed its travel warnings from Kenya’s most vulnerable area to Islamic terrorists, the beautiful Indian ocean coast.

2. Travel is cheaper and easier to Kenya than Tanzania.
Nairobi’s new airport is astoundingly modern and efficient. You’ll think you’re in Europe. Tanzania’s two airports, Kilimanjaro and Dar-es-Salaam, are losing not only service from Europe and beyond, but they’re losing electricity!

In my many visits in the last five months to Kilimanjaro airport, there were no less than a dozen power outages as I waited for my clients to arrive!

There is much more service to choose from flying into Kenya than Tanzania, and it looks now like Delta will be flying directly to Nairobi starting early next year.

3. Tanzania’s October election could be troublesome.
On the negative side and as I’ve written several times in the last few weeks, Tanzanian politics are heating up. It could be very good for the country, and there are many reasons to think that Tanzania will not go through the troublesome period of political change that Kenya did about ten years ago.

But there are also many reasons to think otherwise. A very contentious national election is scheduled for October 24, and I worry that the main candidates in both factions are talking less about the issues than “keeping the election peaceful.”

Even China — normally an aggressive side liner that never interferes with foreign elections – cautioned Tanzanians Wednesday about violence in the October elections.

4. Kenya is more aggressively conservationist than Tanzania.
Then there are gnawing conservation issues becoming toxic in Tanzania, beginning with the lax enforcement of ivory poaching, the relocation of Maasai just outside the northeastern Serengeti to increase a private Arab hunting reserve, and totally rebuffing conservationists’ attempts to slow down the planned dam and mine in The Selous.

None of these is serious enough for you to cancel a Tanzanian safari, but Kenya in contrast has high positive points on all of these named measures, and so if having to choose one over the other, I think it’s now a slam dunk.

Remember who’s writing this. The Serengeti remains my favorite place in the world, and that’s in Tanzania. My great migration experience these last 8 months in both countries convinces me it’s best in Tanzania.

But the time … money … and safety perception components of creating a great safari are now all tilting towards Kenya.

Sick Kids in Dirty Smelly Homes

Sick Kids in Dirty Smelly Homes

indigenuousTourists who want to see a “primitive village” are people who know dangerously little about the outside world.

One of the most successful cocktail table books to ever be published that includes much from Africa is Jimmy Nelson’s Before They Pass Away. I’ve had the book since it’s been published and its value just increases daily.

But criticism of the book and its exponential earnings curve has reached a crescendo. Indigenous people around the world are growing more and more incensed the more popular and famous the book becomes.

The unending appearances by Nelson with his original prints, which are routinely now auctioning for more than $150,000, now regularly include indigenous people protesting outside the galleries and bookshops hosting the exhibitions.

The protest campaign is being led by Steven Cory of Survival International. The organization publishes a running critique by indigenous leaders around the world of Nelson’s book.

Cory calls the book “hokum” and “hubristic baloney.” Cory points out that the so-called “primitive people” who still exist are hardly going to “pass away” and in fact are becoming more and more politically powerful.

“If his images look like they come from the 19th century, it’s because they do,” Cory concludes. None of the peoples exist today the way Nelson portrays them: Cory documents that Nelson’s photo shoots are all carefully staged, rearranging reality to what rich westerners want to think about people in remote parts of the world.

The people who make Nelson’s book so valuable, and my clients who insist on seeing Maasai villages, are not by any means bad people. There’s a good motivation and a bad motivation resident in most of these folks’ desires.

The good motivation comes from a self-recognition, an admission if you like, of their global myopia. It’s extremely encouraging that travelers go somewhere blind, worried possibly at how little they know but hungry to know more.

The bad motivation is a deeply set racism. The tourist thinks of herself as so much more intellectual, skilled, trained and educated, than the so-called “primitive person.” She wants to see this “with her own eyes” precisely to validate this lofty presumption about herself.

Unfortunately tourism’s response is so out of whack that the initial, well-meaning desire by good folks is cast aside to the more marketable validation of primitiveness.

So there are hundreds of “villages” that charge excessively high rates that tourists dole out without a blink so that they can see sick kids in smelly, dirty homes. It’s absolutely incredible how fooled tourists can be.

It’s infinitely easier to show a tourist in a half hour a sick kid in a smelly, dirty home, than convey to them how the Maasai Environmental Resource Coalition (MERC) is saving the ecosystem for the whole world or how Twaweza is providing better education to all children in East Africa.

What I’m saying is that there would be many, many fewer sick kids in smelly, dirty homes if there weren’t so many tourists paying to see them.

Or if there weren’t so many people paying so much for Jimmy Nelson’s book.

Ebola & Other Warnings

Ebola & Other Warnings

asboluteprotectionagainstebola‘Ebola’ and ‘terrorism in Kenya’ have been massively distorted by American media and not for wont of reporting truthfully.

Confused? So was I until helped by a little email dialogue with a friend. What I mean is that readers’ reactions today are so instantaneous a normal bloke can’t possibly have taken any time to think about what he’s going to say before saying it.

And in this case, saying is believing.

Then it’s too late … it’s on the comment page, Facebook or Twitter, and it’s been retweeted and cloud copied an infinitum. There’s no delete.

There’s a race to be first to react. Reaction trumps deduction. Like my old childhood “telephone game” in virtually minutes if not seconds of a media story, “facts” and “truths” have all been distorted to conform with the cultural presumptions of the reactors.

Case One: The medical doctor who is the son of the current President of Liberia.

From what I understand, Dr. James Adamah Sirleaf is a highly respected Connecticut physician, highly credential academically, remarkably generous and dedicated especially to helping the medical development of his birth country, Liberia.

He spoke freely to Wall Street Journal reporters last October about why he wasn’t giving up his life in the United States since 1990, his family, his practice and children, to go fight ebola.

In fact, he was ardently fighting ebola … for years, through philanthropy and NGO organizations that he founded and directed. His too severe conclusions about his own actions caused a maelstrom of criticism that spread worldwide.

As reported today in AllAfrica “The two [WSJ] articles generated over 3,600 social shares … including [from] reporters, editors, producers or bureau chiefs at news organizations including Politico, Reuters, Al Jazeera, Bloomberg, Financial Times, Boston Globe, CNN, Associated Press, NBC, the New York Times and the BBC.”

Ultimately the story jeopardized Liberian public support for the otherwise popular president, his mother, Ellen Sirleaf.

This is an excellent smaller example of how the whole issue of ebola was distorted in the public mind.

The very nature of the disease – the fact that it is less contagious than measles or most flues; exactly how dangerous it is to societies with public health – less so than measles; and especially how and where it might be prevented – not from quarantining returning doctors … are just some of the distortions that led to this massive “Ebola Myth.”

Yet short of Rupert Murdoch’s media I couldn’t find a single initial incorrect story about it. But the perfect storm of instant reaction and dystopian, mendacious culture that gives rise to Fox News generated a “situation” that was no longer real.

We’re still unpacking the disreality of “Ebola.”

Case Two: American travel warnings on Kenya.

I have been writing about this for decades, enough I suspect to conceivably be used by “Fawlty Towers” to return to prime time.

American travel warnings are so overly cautious that they’re self-defeating: follow their advice and there’s no need to follow their advice because you won’t go anywhere near the place.

They’re also irrelevant because they’re often so specific that were the logic applied to some area like Kenya applied to New Orleans it would effectively end the Mardi Gras.

Over the years, they’ve also just been proved outright wrong, based on completely fallacious information. (That’s subsided in recent years.)

Yesterday, America’s best African reporter, the New York Times Jeffrey Gettleman, wrote a thoughtful and I felt inspiring piece on why America’s current travel warning on Kenya could actually be fueling terrorism.

“Our policy doesn’t make much sense,” Gettleman quoted an American official in that article: “There are neighborhoods in Washington, Anacostia, for example, that are way more dangerous than Nyali or Diani,” he said, citing two relatively quiet Kenyan beach towns [under current American travel warnings].

Carefully, simply and logically, Gettleman explained the self-defeating power of a foreign policy to produce the very outcome it tries to prevent: a travel warning against going somewhere because the threat of calamity is deemed to high.

The warning impedes or stops travel. The tourist location becomes stressed. The locals becomes terrorists.

When I read the story today there were 64 comments. They were insane. There wasn’t one that addressed the evidence, logic or import of Gettleman’s story.

Several, for example, claimed expertness by arguing that Americans aren’t a very significant part of Kenyan tourism anyway, so why does it matter what America says? [Small minds don’t think America’s position has an effect on others in the world?]

I’m not sure I can sum up the dustbin of meaning of these disparate, illogical comments, but “JOHN” stood out because he came to exactly the wrong conclusion, “So what should Western Governments do? Urge their citizens to go to dangerous zones to spread the love? ISIS would no doubt give them a warm welcome.”

Gettleman said precisely what America should do: “… some American officials … wonder if their own government has overreacted, with possibly dangerous unintended consequences. Other Western nations… have formulated more nuanced travel warnings, highlighting certain hot spots without drawing a giant red X across Kenya’s entire coast.”

Did John not read that far? Or did John only read the comments before his?

That’s what I think. That’s the American media overdrive. A story is poorly and too quickly read, not thought about, then reblasted with tons of emotion and misunderstanding. Suddenly, ebola will have a million victims and decimate Peoria, and travel to Fiji is certain death.

We can do better, America.

Fat Children Starving

Fat Children Starving

Comedy conveys reality to Americans today better than straight facts, and last Friday’s ‘The Daily Show’ masterfully presented the real Africa.

Jon Stewart introduced his new correspondent from South Africa, Trevor Noah, who conveyed to Americans a lot more successfully than I and dozens of other bloggers have:

(1) Eric Garner and Michael Brown demonstrate more police brutality in America than in South Africa.

Moreover and more importantly, police brutality in South Africa was once much worse and is now much better, and this is not the case in America.

Noah pointed out that police brutality in South Africa was a construct of apartheid, and that when apartheid ended this brutality began to reverse.

In America, where there’s never been apartheid as such, brutality has remained high if not increased.

(2) There is more ebola in America than South Africa.

True and undeniable, but no matter how many times we say this it’s forgotten until carried in a comedy routine!

Noah said his friends warned him against going to America for fear of contracting ebola, and he replied “just because they had a few cases of ebola there [America] doesn’t mean we should cut off travel, there.”

(3) Americans believe they can “save Africa” by small charity donations. Noah remarked, “for just five cents a day.”

This sarcasm is powerful stuff. It reveals the ignominy of American charities and the naivete of American donors in the much fuller arguments that I and many others have made for years about the mistake of so much American charity.

(4) Americans think almost exclusively that Africa is a vacation destination for big game safaris. While Africans absolutely don’t, of course.

Noah then presented a game, “Spot the Africa” which was phenomenal.

A series of two paneled photographs came up multiple times contrasting Africa with America, and as you can imagine, the horrible ones were America.

This wasn’t just nitpicking. It was real.

Stewart then asked Noah, “You aren’t saying that things in America are worse than in Africa?”

And Noah replies, “No, I’m not saying that, you guys are saying that.”

I’m one of those guys.

And Noah ended with a brilliant observation that knits the reality of sarcasm to the troubled conundrum of American life:

“You know what African mothers warn their children, about, Jon? Be grateful for what you’ve got, because there are fat children starving in Mississippi.”

Good Ebola Travel Policy

Good Ebola Travel Policy

campdinnerAfrican travel companies are rethinking their ebola policy, putting their money where their mouth is, and offering unconditional refunds.

Embracing science and the history of past ebola outbreaks, companies mostly so far in East Africa are advising customers that deposits will be refunded without penalty if WHO declares an outbreak in an area in which they operate.

WHO’s designation, “outbreak,” differs from isolated cases of the sort experienced in Dallas and New York. An “outbreak” is multiple confirmed cases in separated, multiple areas. There is no history or other evidence suggesting that isolated cases lead to outbreaks.

Among the first this weekend to change their policy was Great Plains Conservation, which operates three luxury camps in Botswana and three in Kenya.

“Many of our guests are really worried about Ebola. One can’t really blame them given the media hysteria surrounding the story. We believe this will sort itself out in time as the world mobilizes to tackle this head on,” Jacqui Usher explains as the lead-in for the policy change.

The Great Plains policy will refund all monies held – no questions asked – if an ebola outbreak occurs in Kenya or Botswana.

Moreover, Great Plains has now announced that even if there is no outbreak, customers can get all their money back within 16 weeks of arrival. Most African camps require an up-front, nonrefundable 15-20% at the time of booking.

And within those 16 weeks should a customer grow weary of coming, Great Plains will roll any monies held for the customer to new booking dates up to a year in advance.

This is the gold standard of sensible ebola policy. This is spot-on reasoning, bold marketing and honest communication with consumers. No legalize or other lengthy pontificating qualify this extraordinary situation we currently find ourselves in: a hollow fear of something that will simply not happen.

Yesterday in Mwanza, Tanzania, the blood tests of a man who had died suspiciously of symptoms identical to ebola tested negative for the virus.

The possibility, though, that the man had ebola had spread like wildfire through this large Tanzania city on Lake Victoria last week. Health care workers responded in force, a public health campaign was initiated, associates of the man were quarantined and even if the man had tested positive, the spread of the disease would have been stopped in its tracks.

The Mwanza response is what is lacking in West Africa, and the reason that the disease is still spreading there.

Great Plains may be the gold standard and the first company to play it straight with consumers, but it has been resoundingly joined by others:

“Gamewatchers Safaris understands travelers’ sensitivities about planning a holiday almost anywhere in the world during an Ebola outbreak,” Jake Grieves-Cook, former head of the Kenyan Tourist Organization and now owner/operator of Kenya’s Gamewatchers Safaris explains in the lead-in to his new policy, which is similar to Great Plains’.

Great Plains and Gamewatchers were among the very first, but by no means the only companies to announce revised changes, yesterday. It’s going to be very difficult, now, for any African travel company to sit on its hind and not join this sensible movement.

And the result? Consumers will be assured that the African travel companies really believe what science and medical experts have been saying all along:

Ebola is hard to get, and relatively simple to stop spreading except in very unique areas like the three countries in West Africa just ravaged by generations of war.

Bad Ebola Cancellation Policy

Bad Ebola Cancellation Policy

badvacationThings are calmly down, slides in travel are reversing, and African tour companies are once again shooting themselves in the foot.

In the last ten days a wave of African travel companies have issued new cancellation policies addressing a perceived fear by potential travelers of ebola, which does absolutely nothing except increase fears.

As far as I can tell it began with one of southern Africa’s most reputable and larger companies, Wilderness Safaris.

Wilderness is a holdover from archaic marketing days and still doesn’t sell directly to the consumer, so it sent a rather petulant email to agents worldwide that began by deriding the notion that ebola in West Africa could effect holidays as far away as East and southern Africa.

But then sighing through the internet, the company issued a new policy that said it would cover any difference in lost cancellation fees from nonrefundable payments not refunded by the travelers own insurance company.

Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? It didn’t take long for a whole bunch of companies throughout the continent to follow suit.

It’s meaningless – at least for Americans – and in my opinion is totally counterproductive.

First, why it’s meaningless:

Read the revised policy’s fine print. (1) WHO must declare an “outbreak” in the country in which the safari is scheduled. (2) The traveler must then apply first to his own travel insurance company for refunds of monies on deposit. (3) Whatever the insurance company doesn’t cover, this widely adopted policy will not refund cash but rather a credit for future travel, which is limited by time and other conditions depending upon the specific company.

(1) There is currently much more ebola in the United States then in any sub-Saharan country. WHO has not declared an “outbreak” of ebola in the United States. That is a strategic-specific term that precedes an actual “epidemic” and it requires multiple cases in multiple locations. So to begin with, a single case say in a game park in South Africa will not trigger this policy.

(2) I’m not completely knowledgeable about the travel insurance available to other than Americans, but in the United States there is not a single travel insurance company that covers a travelers’ decision to abort their trip because of ebola or any other public health emergency. In the U.S. normal travel insurance provides benefits strictly for accidents and other health conditions befalling the traveler him/herself.

(A few very expensive policies cover terrorism, and consumers can spend an enormous amount of money for “cancel for any reason” but for most travelers these rare policies are prohibitively expensive.)

In other words, normal travel insurance bought in the U.S. will not provide benefits for a public health emergency in the country scheduled to be visited.

Refunds of part of your deposited trip, and not others, essentially mute out the first refund: Few Americans traveling to Africa will deposit on a trip there without also buying their air fare. There is no indication whatever that any airline will issue any refund for a travelers’ decision to cancel because of a public health emergency.

(3) As most established travel agents and operators worldwide know, most local African companies are quite liberal in extending nonrefundable date-specific services for almost any reason. In other words, most travelers are able to reschedule their previously deposited trip to a later date with no penalty for any reason, much less ebola.

For Americans, then, there is absolutely no benefit whatever from the newly expressed policies.

Most American consumers are a bit more savvy than Africans believe their geography quotient may be. I think most consumers will see this for what it is: a marketing gimmick. Gimmicks don’t help sales.

Consumers who consider the policy more substantial than a gimmick will actually be further deterred: Creating policies that on their surface seem beneficial to the potential traveler only if an outbreak actually occurs suggests that company is conceding that an outbreak is possible.

When the risk is nil. Consider that several of the last ebola outbreaks occurred in Uganda, a popular East African safari country. It never turned into an epidemic, and Uganda’s health-care system countrywide is below average compared to most other sub-Saharan countries.

Consumers – especially in America where two of its largest cities now have had locally developed ebola (Dallas and New York) – are recognizing however slowly that sub-Saharan Africa is actually less risky to visit than the Cowboys’ new stadium or the Statue of Liberty.

African travel companies have always been a little bit behind the times. This stupid policy does nothing but reignite irrational fears.

Ebola’s Surprising Effect

Ebola’s Surprising Effect

thisisnttexasThis ebola epidemic has a surprising effect: Americans are wondering if Africans have it better.

Most Americans’ live styles are much better than their counterparts in Africa, but what about the change from year to year? Americans believe they aren’t getting better. Africans by a wide margin believe they are. Both are right.

It’s only a matter of time before Africans feel they are better off than Americans.

Nigeria and South Africa both had ebola patients come to them from the infected areas. One Nigerian ebola patient infected one of the hospital care givers in Nigeria. Both the patient and the care giver were cured. In South Africa no transmission to health care workers occurred. Both South African and Nigeria are today “ebola-free.”

Texas isn’t.

So why is the American future pessimistic compared to the African future, and why is ebola being better contained – outside the three-country infected area – in Africa than America?

I’ve got one answer: school field trips.

School field trips in Kenya are on a massive increase; trips in the U.S. way down.

According to Education Next, “Museums across the country report a steep drop in school tours… A survey by the American Association of School Administrators found that more than half of schools eliminated planned field trips in 2010–11.”

For example, the Field Museum in Chicago has lost a third of its annual school visitors, as has the Cincinnati arts organizations.

I’ve got another answer: declining infrastructure.

The title of the Council on Foreign Relation’s new report on American infrastructure, “Road to Nowhere,” says it all.

Infrastructure is booming throughout Africa. I can’t believe my eyes when I’m absent from Nairobi for more than a couple months: another highway, another factory, another rail line…

Here’s another answer: American protection of human rights is on the decline. While human rights is still on the whole better in America than in Africa, America is getting worse while some parts of developed Africa like South Africa are getting better.

The Human Rights Risk Atlas for 2014 lists America at 139 of 197 countries, or a “medium risk” of human rights abuse.

It’s possible to go on and on down the list of what governments are supposed to do: build roads, educate children, protect human rights. By so many metrics, even the simple metric of stopping the spread of ebola in a hospital, America isn’t doing so well.

While much of Africa is getting better.

But this should come as no surprise. Social investment in education, infrastructure, even the money we spend on courts and judges, is shrinking.

I once thought it impossible that in my life time any African country could achieve some kind of significant metric that bettered America.

I’m not so sure, anymore.