Travel
Perceived risk and tourist behavior

At some point in the future, borders will open up again and how we then perceive the risks, will have an effect on our behavior, even as tourists.

Published : 06.04.2020

During the last weeks, due to the corona virus, there has been a lot of media attention on tourist behavior both in Finland and abroad. An estimated 200 000 Finns have returned or will return to their home country from all the continents. We all find our home country safer in times of a global crisis; the language is familiar as well as the culture and society. Furthermore, the family is there.

However, the behavior of tourists does not always follow what we expect. Tourists who are afraid of the virus e.g. in various destinations in Spain, choose not to follow the requests of quarantine when returning home. Tourists have partied in karaoke clubs in Finnish Lapland, joined Corona parties in Norway and crowded Australian beaches. All this, when the risks of the virus were already recognized in the Western world. The fact is, that people react in different ways to danger; literature describes this with the concepts of perceived risk and risk perception.

Perceived risk is the likelihood of unwanted incidents that may result in negative consequences for a consumer or tourist.  Perceived risk is more like an assumption that something might go bad than a real risk. Mandfeld and Pizam (2006) define tourists’ risk perception as “a cognitive state of mind that, if beyond an acceptable level, might affect travel behavior in various ways mainly through non-booking, cancellations, and evacuation of affected destination.”  Mass media, the travel trade, social media, real-life experiences and traditional word-of-mouth shape the perceived risk in tourism. Thus, risks are taken based on perception rather than on facts.

Safety and security issues are one of the five forces affecting tourism in the new millennium. The areas of main concern are crime, health, natural disasters, terrorism and food safety. Of these concerns crime, health and food safety are risks that travelers face daily and almost in every destination all over the world. Tourists take voluntary risks by being careless when e.g. eating and drinking, underestimating dangers and the importance of protection. Another example of voluntary risk taking is adventure tourism, where tourists expose themselves to injury and accidents.

Individuals perceive risks differently depending on social circumstances, travel experience and personality. Risk is also a social construct, and it varies between social structures and cultures. Whether a risk is considered acceptable is also a matter of priorities and values which are psychosocial factors.

Risk perception is associated with previous experiences with a hazard or the depth of understanding it. Some people are more sensitive to risks. How we perceive risks varies by gender, age, race, political ideology, trust, personal affiliations, and emotional affect. Women and minorities are often more concerned about risks than men and members of the majority. Studies claim, that white young men have a lower risk judgement than any other group, resulting in for instance drug use and reckless driving.

A major determinant when deciding to visit a destination is the perception of safety and security. During the first weeks of the pandemic, we all thought the virus lethal for seniors and people with chronical diseases. This resulted in the majority of people in Europe still perceiving it safe to live and travel as usual. People perceived the risk of getting ill from Corona low. This again contributed to the virus spreading quickly and both risk groups and people without any medical conditions were infected.  As nations started to react severely the perception of safety and security changed drastically.

To conclude, travelling includes always risks to some extent.  The expected risks can vary from very minor to major threatening lives of tourists. Whether the risk of getting the Coronavirus is bigger abroad, at your second home or at home is something everyone needs to consider. At some point in the future, borders will open up again and how we then perceive the risks, will have an effect on our behavior, even as tourists.

Reference

Mansfeld, Y. & Pizam A. 2006. Tourism, security & safety from theory to practice.  Elsivier Inc. UK.