How can tourism bounce back from Covid-19?

It was considered one of the fastest growing industries, accounting for at least one in four new jobs worldwide. Fast forward to 2021, and the pandemic has virtually crippled the industry. Tourism demand – arrivals, travel and use of facilities and services – contracted by about 74% in 2020. This cost the industry more than $ 1.3 billion and compromised millions of jobs.

The African region lost around $ 83 billion in contribution to GDP (down 49.2%) and lost up to 7.2 million jobs in industry from 2019 levels.

The impact of health crises such as SARS, H1N1 and Ebola has not been on the scale of the disaster brought by the Covid-19 pandemic. This impact has been compounded by government interventions aimed at mitigating the spread and effects of the virus.

But vaccines offer hope for the industry. Its recovery must begin with domestic tourism. In 2019, domestic tourism accounted for only 50.2% of travel and tourism receipts in the sub-Saharan Africa region, lower than other regions.

It is now essential for African destinations to promote domestic tourism, which also paves the way for international tourism. The key will be the ability to predict the potential effects of Covid-19 on tourist behavior.

Perceived risk

As an introduction to a series of future studies, I have reviewed the literature on perceived health risk and its potential impact on post-crisis tourism. It is possible to anticipate the negative influence that the perceived risk will have on the behavior of tourists and, ultimately, on national and international tourism demand.

My study provides an overview of lessons learned from previous tourism crises and what tourism practitioners have done to mitigate the effects of perceived risk on tourists. It also provides practical steps the industry can take to recover.

Previous studies on tourist behavior show that the uncertainty and negative consequences of tourism often go beyond the crisis event. My study explored physical (health-related), psychological and social risks as influences on the behavior of tourists.

An increased perceived risk triggers feelings of anxiety and dread associated with travel and tourism. This affects the brand image of the countries affected by the crisis and influences the decision-making of tourists. As a result, tourists delay their trips and change their choice of destination. In some cases, they cancel their planned tourist activity.

For example, following the SARS epidemic in 2003, some Asian countries such as China and Singapore suffered significant declines in tourism demand. Tourists avoided traveling to the area for health and safety reasons.

The Ebola outbreaks in Sierra Leone and Guinea in 2008 and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in 2012 in Saudi Arabia also elicited a similar response from tourists.

International studies are already collecting evidence of the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on tourist behavior. But previous tourism research has already predicts a situation of multiple risk factors influencing tourists. It will be essential for post-crisis tourism to mitigate potential health and safety issues that could discourage tourism.

My study revealed that several stakeholders must be involved in the process of reviving tourism. These include:

  • National governments. They must mobilize the financial, human and technical resources necessary to support the revival of tourism. Most importantly, governments need to effectively manage both the effective roll-out of vaccination programs and the responsible reopening of the tourism economy to domestic and international tourists.
  • Custodians of destination marks. Marketers must promote African destinations as attractive but socially responsible destinations. They must share information such as the measures put in place to protect tourists in order to help people make their decisions.
  • Tourism service providers. Most importantly, owners of tourism products need to innovate and adapt their tourism offerings to meet the demand for secure domestic tourism. This would give the tourism sector a boost and prepare it for international tourism.

Go forward

The results of my study have important implications for African tourism practitioners. The national tourism sector, like the global tourism industry, faces a multi-faceted challenge. It comes from both the tourism demand side (perceived health, social and psychological risk) and the supply side (massive budget deficits, job losses, liquidation of businesses and depletion of human capital).

Tourism professionals must be aware of the influence of physical health risks on the perceptions and intentions of tourists. Tourists will probably have the impression that home is safer than abroad. It would be an advantage for domestic tourism.

In addition, measures such as the promotion of mask wearing, disinfection, social distancing, the digitization of certain service processes and the promotion of vaccination will be vital for the recovery and promotion of domestic tourism. Tourism practitioners need to determine how to synchronize supply and demand. This may include product innovation and price reforms to meet domestic tourists and meet new tourism demands.The conversation

Tafadzwa Matiza, Senior Lecturer and Tourism Researcher, Northwestern University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


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