The travel and tourism industry cannot afford to not respond responsibly and positively to the growing fear of travel. If tourism leaders don’t become proactive now, it means our jobs and the jobs of millions working in the sector will be threatened. In a worse case, humanity may face the prospect of living on a miserable and paranoid planet.
The global travel and tourism industry was taken by surprise and is in a state of uncertainty with COVID-19 becoming a reality. Does it mean Tourism is dead? Safertourism, Dr. Peter Tarlow and Dr. David Beirman say no. How can tourism professionals show resilience? Safertourism wants to hear from eTN Readers at https://safertourism.com/virus/
Even the most optimistic travel professional understands that 2020 is set to be a tough year for tourism. As of today (08 March 2020) the Coronavirus or COVID-19 has now exceeded 100,000 cases worldwide and deaths have exceeded 3,500. Over 80% of those cases are in China, where the outbreak appears to have plateaued due to the stringent health regulations enforced by the Chinese government. However, 80 countries have now recorded at least on case. COVID-19 is on the rise outside China.
These numbers are striking terror into many people and inspire lurid media coverage. In a few short weeks, COVID-19 has emerged to become the Godzilla of monsters attacking tourism. While COVID-19 infections and deaths are likely to rise (at least in the short-term) the global health threat of COVID-19 remains relatively small compared to the H1N1 (Swine Flu) outbreak of 2009-10. According to WHO, this outbreak infected 1 billion people and resulted in 576,000 deaths globally. Most people, including the media, have long forgotten this.
Apart from a flurry of concern when H1N1 first appeared in Mexico in March 2009, global tourism was barely affected. There was certainly no mass panic buying of toilet rolls which has been endemic to Australia in recent days. I’d love someone to tell us how toilet rolls help prevent COVID-19. With H1N1 people around the world soldiered on with little fuss.
There is no doubt that COVID-19 is a legitimate cause for concern both within China and in hotspots such as Southern South Korea, Iran, Northern Italy and Japan where cases no number in the thousands. However, there is a big jump from legitimate concern to mass panic which seems to be a more serious problem for the global economy (especially tourism) than the virus itself. The main reason for the hysteria about COVID-19 centers on the unknowns attached to it. We don’t really know its origins, how it’s transmitted, how long it takes to manifest traceable symptoms and how to both prevent and cure it. This list is far from complete. It’s this combination of unknowns which is spooking people and making them ask, should I travel and if so how and where? We have already seen event cancellations including ITB Berlin, attractions closed (The Louvre) and a cloud of uncertainty hangs over the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Australian tourism is desperately trying to recover from the quadruple whammy of drought, bushfires, flood and now COVID-19. International forward bookings to Australia between 01 Dec 2019 -01 March 2020 declined by 36% compared to the comparable months in 2018-19, the biggest quarterly decline in my 40+ years in the tourism industry.
However, COVID-19 is now a common global threat to the viability of the tourism industry. The indefinite suspension of tourism in and out of China since Mid January 2020 (affecting 10% of global tourism) was just the beginning of a chain of events that now has many people worldwide, questioning the need for and the desirability of travel.
The simple truth is that if we as an industry don’t respond responsibly and positively to the growing fear of travel not only will our jobs be threatened but we face the prospect of living in a miserable and paranoid planet. It is vital that tourism professionals hold the line from the panic and fear that COVID-19 has aroused.
We travel professionals who need a good injection of positive thinking. While we should respect our clients’ legitimate concerns we e shouldn’t be telling them not to travel or how to cancel. Rather we should be directing them to the best and safest ways to undertake their intended trip and advise them of the safest destinations. We need to point out that most of the world’s destinations are safe.
Risk, including travel risk, is all about likelihood and consequence. Apart from the hotspots mentioned above, the current likelihood of a traveler being exposed to COVID-19 is better than 500,000 to one. I readily acknowledge these odds are subject to change, we need to. monitor them regularly but the likelihood is small. Even those unfortunate enough to be inflected have a 96.5% likelihood of survival.
The most at-risk people are people who are both elderly and frail, Babies and people with existing medical conditions and poor immunity defenses.
Travel professionals need to keep close tabs on government travel advisories and advise their clients to do the same. They should also understand what travel insurance policies do and don’t cover in relation to COVID-19. Care should be taken to understand and communicate the measures being taken by airlines, tour operators, accommodation providers, cruise operators, and attractions to minimize the threat of COVID-19. Travel agents on on-line bookings should communicate measures travelers can take to minimize their personal exposure to COVID-19.
Conversely, the major sectors of our industry and their global associations should make it absolutely clear to all travel consumers what measures airlines, cruise operators, tour operators, hoteliers, event venues, coach operators, travel agents are taking to address COVID-19. As an industry, we need to TALK UP TOURISM while ensuring our message is as professionals with the interests of our clients at heart, not just a tacky sales pitch.
If your client tells you that they would rather just stay at home to minimize the risk, consider the following.
- Risk in traveling comes in many forms of which one is a disease.
- Staying at home exposes you to the following risks.
- Home invasion, theft, abduction
- A drunk driver may plow into your home.
- Overexposure to irritating and noisy family members, housemates and neighbors
- Natural disasters (flood, fire, storm damage)
- Electrocution and blackouts
- Accidents in the home
- Contracting diseases from sick children, guests, and other household residents.
Ok, you get the picture? Living is a risk and risk applies to anything you do in life. Better to live, travel and minimize your risks by traveling responsibly than stay at home and hope COVID-19 will do away. If tourism is to remain resilient during this current wave of fear we need to communicate some positive messages globally.
This is where leadership comes in. The leaders of our global tourism organizations need to engage with their stakeholders, the media (on all its platforms) and the public that responsible tourism is good and desirable. If we don’t collectively get off our backsides and do this we may be all looking for a career change.
eTurboNews readers are invited to share feedback. Go to https://safertourism.com/virus/
Dr. David Beirman Ph.D. is a Senior Lecturer from Sydney, Australia representing Tourism, Management Discipline Group, UTS Business School in Australia calls for Tourism Resilience.