Tourism and Pandemics: Do They Coexist?
What makes COVID-19 different from previous diseases in the speed and reach of the virus and the extent of the contagion beyond the traveler to the destination? Tourism is about movement. Pandemics are about stopping a spread.
It does not matter if your news source is social media, television networks, or print, the link between travel and tourism and pandemics is clear. If the world was not global, what started in China would have stayed in China; however, the virus spread because people move around the world – by planes and cruise ships with a combination of land transportation options.
Travel expedites the emergence and spread of disease. This dissemination has been the case throughout recorded history and will continue to shape the emergency, frequency, and distribution of infections to geographical areas and populations. What makes COVID-19 different from previous diseases in the speed and reach of the disease and the extent of the contagion beyond the traveler to the population visited and the ecosystem of the host destination? Disease spread is circular – with travelers sharing illness along their routes and encountering serious health risks that may be present in areas where accommodations do not meet global health standards and/or practice inadequate hygiene and sanitation protocols.
COVID-19 is not the first, and will not be the last, disease spread around the world through travel. In the 20th century, we have already witnessed many pandemics including:
1. Spanish flu (influenza) 1918-1919
2. Asian flu (H2N2) – 1957
3. Hong Kong flu – 1968
In the 21st century there have been four pandemics:
1. SARS – 2002
2. Bird flu – 2009
3. MERS – 2012
4. EBOLA – 2013-2014
Research suggests that the increase in pandemic outbreaks since 2000 is linked to the growth in tourism and global business travel. Mobilities is essential to epidemiology and the spread of disease; travel is both a contributor to disease spread and its economic consequences are dramatically affected by it. The harsh reality is that we have no 21st century tools to fight COVID-19. The methods currently in place that attempt to cage the pandemic were used to control epidemics in earlier centuries and tend to be economically disruptive. With no treatment and the slow availability of vaccines because of the lack of global leadership and financing combined with the fear that the vaccines are political statements rather than medical solutions, the world will be working with a virus-infused environment for years to come.