TOURISTS have learnt to live with terrorist attacks and health scares, according to a report.
The ITB World Travel Trend Report by IPK International, to be presented on March 10 at the ITB Convention Market Trends & Innovations, will elaborate the impact of natural disaster and politically motivated attacks: increasingly, they are seen to have a brief effect that is locally confined.
What has emerged since, however, is that disaster notwithstanding; tourists adapt their habits to changing situations and such major negative events as these only briefly and locally restrain demand for travel to the destinations concerned.
Since the attacks on New York’s World Trade Center in 2001, not a year has passed without at least one tourism area experiencing a disaster or crisis, imminently threatening the market. BSE, SARS, the Iraq war, the bombings in Bali, Madrid and London, the tsunami, hurricanes Katrina and Rita and the earthquake in Pakistan all came up in a presentation by European Travel Commission CEO Rob Franklin at the IPK Pisa Forum late last year.
Market studies also throw up the finding that in terms of consumers’ behaviour and their preferred destinations, tourists over a period of time increasingly accept the possibility of a crisis as a given and permanent risk. This is similar to a car driver fully accepting the possibility, however small, of a fatal road accident, in spite of being aware of the relevant statistics. According to Franklin, the consumer’s general tendency towards making ever later bookings, more and more over the internet, is decisively influenced by this new collective perception of what goes on around him.
This is a view shared by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), whose secretary general Francesco Frangialli says that despite the continuing large number of global threats, their impact on international tourism is tailing off. An examination of these results by the Pisa Forum showed that any effect they have on tourism demand is related to the type of crisis in question. A tsunami or hurricane has virtually no impact on overall global tourism, even if in the short term the shift in visitor numbers away from the affected regions can be quite dramatic. The impact is confined to the local region and in particular is brief.
Whereas natural disasters are phenomena which quickly pass and are regionally contained, the risk to the individual’s health from an epidemic in many cases can be hard to estimate, if at all. The impact of an epidemic such as SARS or bird flu is dominated by emotional aspects, making the effects much more difficult to predict. This can lead to increasingly negative effects on demand. Epidemics are the greatest risk facing the travel sector. Participants at the Pisa forum concluded that from the tourist’s point of view, a terror attack or armed conflict is easier to deal with in terms of its duration and consequences than a health crisis, an assessment confirmed by studies at the Japanese Travel Bureau Foundation.
It has also emerged that in addition to a threat’s duration and publicly issued recommendations, media coverage has a decisive influence on people’s perception and resultant booking behaviour. Consequently, the key to successful crisis management is in organising public relations, keeping the customer informed and ably qualified tour managers assisting visitors at the destination.
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