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How Tourism should Confront Coronavirus?

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The travel and tourism industry depends on visitors being able to travel freely from one location to another.  When a health crisis occurs, especially one for which currently there is no vaccine, visitors naturally become afraid.  In the case of the Coronavirus, not only has the Chinese government now taken action but much of the world has also acted. 

With the first reported death outside of China, once again the world of tourism is facing another health crisis.  The World Health Organization has declared the Coronavirus to be a worldwide crisis.  Governments have prepared quarantine centers and closed borders.  Airlines and ships have canceled flights or calls at international ports and medical personnel is scrabbling to find new vaccines before the coronavirus spreads and possibly mutates.

Nations around the world have restricted or forbidden their national carriers to fly to China. Other nations have closed their borders or demand health records before allowing foreigners to enter.  Depending on how the virus mutates, spreads, the consequences of these cancellations might last for years.  The results are not only a loss of money but also prestige and reputation. Many parts of China already suffer from a perceived lack of hygiene and the spread of this virus has made a bad situation appear even worse.

Additionally, we live in an age of twenty-four, seven-day-a-week worldwide news.  The result is that what happens in one location around the world is almost instantaneously known throughout the entire world. 

Media pressure not only means that individuals will shy away from such locations but also that local governments throughout the world feel obliged to take added precautions, so as not to suffer reputational or political consequences.  From the perspective of tourism, a health crisis quickly becomes a tourism crisis.

As of the writing of this article, public health officials and scientists are unclear as to the science behind the Coronavirus. What medical personnel do know is that this virus is related to the S.A.R.S. virus, a virus from the early part of the twenty-first century that had devastating effects on tourism in such places as Hong Kong and Toronto, Canada. 

Concerning the Coronavirus, we know that it is spread from one human to another.  What health officials still do not know is if those carrying the disease are aware that they are carriers or not.  The fact that large numbers of infected people might be carriers without knowing creates whole new problems for both the medical and for the tourism industry.

The fact that we still do not have a clear understanding as to how the Coronavirus spreads or mutates can become the basis for both rational and irrational behavior.

The tourism industry may feel both localized and large scale travel reluctance by large numbers of people.  This reluctance to travel could result in some, or all, of the following:

  • Lower numbers of people flying,
  • Decrease lodging occupancy resulting not only in the loss of income but also jobs,
  • Decreased taxes being paid with governments having to find new revue streams or be faced with the cutting of social services,
  • Loss of reputations and confidence on the part of the traveling public.

The tourism and travel industry is not helpless and there are a number of responsible ways that the industry can confront this newest challenge.   Tourism professionals are reminded that they need to review and remember some of the basics when dealing with a tourism crisis.  Among these are:

-Be ready for any changes.  To be ready is to have good passenger and employ screening at points of international entry and departure, and locations in which people come in close contact with one another, Then

-Develop the best responses possible.  To accomplish this task, tourism officials have to be up-to-date on the facts, highlight preventative actions being taken within their part of the tourism industry to protect travelers.

-Create as many alliances as possible between the government sector, medical sector and tourism organizations. Create ways that you work with the media to get real facts into the public and to prevent unnecessary panics.

Tourism professionals cannot afford to be unaware of the crisis changeable aspects and as such tourism security specialists need to know that:

-tourism is highly vulnerable to panic situation. The days after September 11, 2001 ought to have taught the tourism industry that for most people travel is a leisure purchase based on want rather than need.  If travelers become afraid they may simply cancel their trips. In such cases, there may be massive layoffs of tourism workers whose jobs suddenly disappear.

-the importance of caring for sick employees and their families. The people staffing the tourism industry are also human. That means that their families and they are also susceptible to illnesses. Should large numbers of staff (or their families) become sick, hotels and restaurants may have to close simply due to manpower shortages. Tourism industry people need to be developing plans on how they will maintain their industry while suffering from manpower shortages.

– the importance of having a plan to take care of visitors who fall ill may not know how to contact local medical authorities or even speak the language of the local doctors. Another problem to be considered is how the tourism industry will aid people who fall sick while on vacation.  Medical notices will need to be distributed in multiple languages people will need ways to communicate to loved-ones and to describe symptoms to medical personnel in their own language.

-preparation to fight against a pandemic not only from the medical perspective but also from the marketing/information perspective.  Because the public may well panic it is important that the tourism industry be prepared to offer concrete and credible information. This information should be given to the public almost immediately. Every tourism office should have an information plan ready should a pandemic occur in its area.  Develop creative websites so that people can gain information any time of the day and without regards to where they may be located.

-tourism personnel must be prepared to counter negative publicity with an action program.  For example in areas that have been impacted by a disease make sure to advise travelers to stay current with their vaccinations and create medical information sheets.  It is essential that the public know where to go for information and what is real versus what is rumor.  For travelers who may not be up-to-date with current shots, offer lists of doctors and clinics willing to accept traveler’s insurance.

-medical kits at hotels and other places of lodging must always be up-to-date. Make sure that their employees use anti bacterial hand wipes and encourage hotels to provide these for travelers.

-Preparation to work with travel insurance companies.  In case of a pandemic, travelers may not receive value for money and may desire to either cancel a trip or cut it short. The best way to maintain good will is by working with such organizations as the United States Travel Industry Association (in Canada it is called Travel and Health Industry Association of Canada). Develop travel health programs with these organizations so that visitors feel financially protected.

-working with the media.  A pandemic is like any other tourism crisis and should be treated as such. Prepare for it before it strikes, if it should occur set your action plan in place and make sure that you work with the media, and finally have a recovery plan set so that once the crisis has abated you can begin a financial recovery program.

Listed below are a number of additional things that tourism and travel professionals will need to consider.  It must be emphasized that because this virus is dangerous and rapidly changing and/or spreading, tourism professionals should be in constant contact with local medical and public health officials.

-Seek daily medical updates.  There is no place immune from this disease and it might only take one person who has been to an infected area or has been in close contact with an infected person to bring the Coronavirus to your locale. Vigilance is necessary and work closely with local public health officials.

-Be aware of the news.  Governments are reacting quickly and decisively to quarantined problems and stop them before potential problems become realities.  That means that if you are in travel or tourism you need to have alternative plans in case borders are closed, flights are cancelled, or new illnesses develop.

-Do not panic but be vigilant.  Most people will not be infected by the coronavirus, but without good data panic tends to set in.  Statements such as: “I think”, “I believe” or “I feel that…” are not helpful.  What counts is not what we think but what facts we know.

-Know and have cancellation policies in place. This might be especially important for tourism group organizers and travel agents.  Make sure that you share this information with clients and have full refund policies in place should they be needed.

-Cleanliness and good sanitation are essential.  That means that sheets need to be changed regularly, public devices need to be disinfected on a regular basis, and personnel who feel ill should be encouraged to stay home.  The tourism and travel industry needs to reconsider its policies vis-à-vis such issues as:

  • Lack of public sanitation
    • Recycled air on airplanes
    • Issues of blankets both at hotels and on airplanes
    • Additional employee washing of hands
    • Public restroom cleanliness
    • Personnel in direct contact with the public such as wait-staffs, hotel cleaning services, and front desk personnel need to be checked to assure the public that another colleague or guest has not inadvertently infected them.

-Check ventilation systems and make sure that the air being breathed is a pure as possible.  Good air quality is essential and that means that air conditioner and heater filters need to be checked, airlines need to increase outside airflows, and windows should be opened and sunlight should be able to enter into buildings whenever and wherever possible.

-Understand the impact of time. In a national or international crisis, the media or our members are likely to know about it before us or at least as soon as we do.

Dr. Peter Tarlow is one of the most recognized safety and security experts for the global travel and tourism industry.

eTurboNews readers are invited to discuss more directly with Dr. Tarlow on the next SaferTourism webinar on Thursday:

More information on Dr. Peter Tarlow on

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