The tourist industry has been under significant stress with the appearance of the coronavirus around the globe. Disaster management by governments has seen the industry having to close its doors to a large extent, and completely in many instances. This move was necessary to contain the spread of the virus.
Over time this industry has had to prove its resilience in the face of such challenges. It has had to come up with innovative ways to recover from these disasters to prove its sustainability. Some businesses have managed to overcome these shocks, others have not. Let’s look at some of the many ways that disasters have challenged the survival of the tourism industry.
The Tourism Industry and Natural Disasters
Over the past 20 years, the tourism industry has been hard hit by several natural and manmade disasters around the globe.
The present coronavirus has affected the majority of countries in the world, causing their tourism industries to be shut down.
Late in 2019 and early 2020, raging fires in Australia all but caused their tourism industry to close down because the country was too unsafe to visit.
Droughts in Cape Town, South Africa, had a negative impact on the industry due to water shortages.
Earthquakes in Lombok and Sulawesi in Indonesia resulted in many casualties and infrastructural damage. A tsunami rising to 10 feet arose from the Sulawesi earthquake, all but leveling Palu city.
The Zika virus was quite widespread, causing panic in 2018. This virus mainly impacted the Caribbean, Puerto Rico and up to Florida, Miami.
A massive volcanic eruption occurred in Iceland in 2000, 2004, 2010, 2014 and 2019. These eruptions took place on Fimmvorduhals, in the Eyjafjallajokull glacier and in Grimsfjoll in the Vatnajokull glacier. When Eyjafjallajökull erupted in 2010, the pollution in the air reached as far as the northern and western regions of Europe, resulting in air travel being discontinued for over six days.
Venice has been slowly sinking as waters rise, which is thought to be due to climate change. Other natural and manmade disasters over the past 20 years encompass many others that have influenced the tourism industry.
Earthquakes in Yogyakarta, Indonesia in 2006, the Kelud volcanic eruption in 2014, terrorist attacks in Bali during 2002 and again in 2005 left the world reeling. The SARS virus outbreak in 2003 and many others have left their shocks, causing adaptation.
Tourism Resilience and Responses to Disasters
There is more than one way to define resilience. In tourism, the preference is to define this resilience as the capacity for recovery in the social, ecological and economic pillars resulting from stresses caused by tourism.
Typically, contemporary tourism looks at increasing sustainable initiatives in the wake of shocks. Adaptations to shocks are considered as resilience in this industry. Rapid responses to dealing with natural and manmade shocks benefit everyone. To respond effectively, though, combined resources of all stakeholders is necessary.
Governments, health and disaster management organization, the military, communities, charities and tourists are all channels which can be leveraged to positively respond to shocks. When all of these stakeholders are aligned, disaster recovery is speeded up significantly.
All of these elements are interrelated and need to be managed for maximum efficiency. Connectivity needs to be managed between diverse government systems focused on a polycentric approach. While managing shocks, diversity and redundancies should be considered.
Participation between the damaged area and stakeholders needs to widened to develop involvement positively. Those in charge of disaster responses need to be trained in the complexities of multi-focal systems thinking.
Response times and feedback levels need to be adapted for improved results. Adaptation in the tourism industry is vital to demonstrate effective resilience for the industry to prove itself sustainable, moving into the future.
One example is hurricane Maria in Dominica, which had a knock-on effect, causing critical infrastructural damage such as sub-standard buildings (vulnerabilities), and communications. Landslides and storms caused additional damage, known as cascading effects.
Adaptations need to be made to fix vulnerabilities before they cause domino effects. Tourism is impacted for up to a year later in badly managed situations, where transport has also been so badly affected that damage control has been severely impacted. Foreign investment and exchange are just further consequences of such shocks that hinder recovery significantly.
On the positive side, with every disaster comes the opportunity to learn. Affected areas can decrease vulnerabilities by improving infrastructure. Cascading impacts can be reduced in the process, and lessons can be learned as inputs into improving future disaster prevention and mitigation strategies.
Once it has been established that the coronavirus has been contained, and the pandemic is over, the tourism industry can begin damage control. This management stage will encourage tourism through various packages to promote travel and the healing of nations, people and economies.