Tourism and Covid-19: What is the greatest concern for travelers as tourism re-opens?
There are all signs that travel is reopening soon as COVID-19 infection curve flattens in some places. Destinations are looking forward to welcoming tourists again. Clearly, the pandemic provoked serious thoughts about risks and uncertainties in travel. As a result, an increasing number of tourists may think through travel risks in planning for their trips, and in the post lockdown economy, COVID-19 will have a principal effect in this consideration. For sure, travelers will be revisiting their intentions to travel based on their perceptions of risk, especially the possibility of health risks encountered internationally and its ensuing travel emergencies. This will have a variation in numbers of those canceling their travel plans, postponing, or proceeding with their holiday arrangements. Those who are risk-neutral i.e. do not perceive traveling to destinations as risky, can pursue their travel plans uninterrupted given that travel restrictions are being lifted and at present, we have destinations with open borders. However, not everyone is risk-neutral, a good number of travelers have a higher perception of place risk. They will re-examine their intentions to travel in view of the activity of traveling and tourism exposing them to potential dangers or hazards with undesirable outcomes. This group of travelers is looking for additional information to validate why they should stick to their travel plans despite perceived place risks. They are looking for information that can be convincing enough to lower their perception of place risk, to which destinations are responding by foregrounding information about onsite protocols for bio-safety, sanitation, and security.
Those considered as “Safe destinations” have released travel protocols approved by the UNWTO, to reassure clients about their safety as travel reopens. Travel protocols are a way of looking at the risk of COVID-19 from a functional perspective, focusing on hands-on and factual aspects of the risk. To some extent, this resonates well with traveler’s expectations. We conducted a poll seeking the independent voice of travelers, on what they thought will be the greatest concern in travel as tourism reopens. 48.9% of respondents considered their greatest travel concern post lockdown to be crowded recreation areas, and 31.9 % would be apprehensive about group transport. Public dining and hotel nights would have little attention, as they received 14.9% and 4.3% of the votes respectively.
What do you think will be the greatest concern for travelers as tourism re-opens?
Group transport (flying) – 31.9%
Hotel nights – 4.3%
Public dining -14.9%
Crowded recreation areas -48.9%
Indeed, safety protocols that destinations are introducing can be helpful in encouraging travel. Even so, lowering the perception of risk alone may not be sufficient reason to encourage travel for tourists who have travel anxiety. Worth noting is the fact that travel anxiety could be a demotivating factor for travel in the post lockdown economy, especially as relates to frustrations in border entry hurdles, passing through customs with changing immigration and border policy, and the worry of being turned back upon arrival. After the uncertainties witnessed in cruise incidences, it is possible that anxiety dominates travel thoughts for those planning for trips now. Passengers on Diamond Princess were quarantined on board for nearly a month on Japanese waters, rather than being relocated to safer spaces in Japan. This is because they possessed multiple territorial identities and COVID-19 quarantine policies for most governments take a territorial perspective. Home countries for affected Diamond Princess passengers had to arrange the evacuation of their citizens and quarantine them further upon arrival.
The dilemma of travel anxiety is clear, yet tourism destinations focus bulk of their efforts on onsite protocols ahead of reopening for travel. When anxiety is high, and risk perceptions are high, a traveler will have less assurance in the safety of a destination and may withdraw their travel plans.