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Pandemics and tourism

We seem to live in a world of crises characterized by unexpectedness, urgency and danger. Human actions create crises such as terrorism attacks and the refugee crises, other crises are caused by nature; earthquakes, hurricanes and pandemics like Corona.


Eva Holmberg

Yrkeshögskolan Novia

Published : 31.03.2020

A tourism crisis is a circumstance in which tourists and the industry face with destructive change. The tourism industry is vulnerable to crises, because of its complex structure. The total tourism product is a mix of services such as transportation and accessibility, accommodation, attractions and activities.  One supplier’s crisis may cause crises in the whole tourism service chain. Thus, the tourism industry is often affected with multiple crises at the same time e.g. when a natural disaster contributes to an economic crisis.

Before the Corona virus appeared in Wuhan, China at the end of December 2019, the health related crises in tourism have had an impact locally and regionally rather than globally.  The foot-and-mouth-disease hit Britain in 2001 and had a huge effect on the tourism industry.  Officials closed down tourist attractions, tourist events, activities, parks, gardens and zoos, which caused trip cancellations by tourists.

Before Corona, SARS was the most familiar crisis affecting tourism.  The SARS epidemic started in China in 2003 and spread to other countries like Canada, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan and Vietnam. The initial ignorance caused by the Chines officials and the speed at which the disease advanced created panic among tourists and locals. The virus proved less contagious and fatal as originally feared but the news of the illness immediately harmed the tourism industry. The arrival of tourists fell drastically in some countries during the worst months and the recovery of tourism was slow as the worries of the epidemic returning continued for some years.

During the last years, the focus in tourism research and political decision-making has been over-tourism and sustainable development, leaving potential risks and crises in tourism more or less overlooked. As the first news about a new virus in China started to reach Europe, the main winter holiday-season was on and people were travelling to Thailand, Canary Islands and the Alps.  Very few were concerned about a virus that mainly seemed to be a risk in some parts of China. When the virus arrived in Northern Italy, its impact started to become evident.

The situation we have today, March 30 2020, was impossible to imagine a couple of weeks back. All borders around the globe are closed and it is almost impossible to get home even from a neighboring country. Airports are empty and airplanes mainly transport cargo. The tourism industry is laying off people from hotels, restaurants and attractions either due to lack of demand or governmental decisions.

Some experts argue now that the world will never be the same and the behavior of tourists will change forever. Will tourists in the future perceive cruises as safe after the news on Corona virus spreading quickly on some cruising ship? What about the new understanding that you as a tourist can actually be forced to stay for weeks in quarantine at a hotel, if a new pandemic breaks out?

The Corona crisis is unique, as the virus has spread all over the world, and thus, it will take tourists a longer time trusting its disappearance. It is still impossible to see the full implications of this pandemic. However, people who previously travelled often will most likely return to their habits as the situation calms down.


Henderson J. C. 2007. Tourism Crises. Causes, consequences and management. Elsivier Inc. UK.

Smith-Wilder A. 2005. The severe acute respiratory syndrome: Impact on travel and tourism in Travel Medicine and Infectious Disease. Volume 4, Issue 2, March 2006, Pages 53-6