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An Evaluation of Pandemics on Tourism

Actualizado: 26 mar 2021

Tourism and travel are one of the sectors most affected by COVID-19 pandemic. According to UNWTO, before the pandemic started, international travelling was to reach over 1.4 billion tourists and 3.3% of the global GDP. With the coronavirus pandemic there was no anticipation of the potentially disastrous consequences. Also, according to the OECD, the expected decrease is around 80% in the international tourism economy till the end of 2020. [1] The Tourism sector was not ready for this pandemic. Most importantly, any other precautions that governments should have taken to protect countries from the beginning or even should have predicted this coronavirus pandemic to not have been impacted much then. According to WTTC it will take around 10 to 35 months for the tourism and hospitality sector to recover. [2]

Which factors have affected the global tourism sector so far and to what extent?

Before this epidemic, our perception of life was different and we could not imagine living through such a crisis. However, this crisis is not a “brand-new” experience for the tourism sector. To evaluate the current pandemic crisis, we should first consider its history.

As cited here, “It is important to note that global tourism has been exposed to a wide range of crises in the past. Between 2000 and 2015, major disruptive events include the September 11 terrorist attacks (2001), the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak (2003), the global economic crisis unfolding in 2008/2009, and the 2015 Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) outbreak. None of them led to a longer-term decline in the global development of tourism, and some of them are not even notable in, with only SARS (-0.4%) and the global economic crisis (-4.0%) leading to declines in international arrivals (World Bank 2020). This would suggest that tourism as a system has been resilient to external shocks. However, there is much evidence that the impact and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic will be unprecedented.” [3] The COVID-19 crisis has had a greater impact on international tourism. According to WHO, an analysis of cases since people who do not show any symptom or showing mild reactions (80%) are much more than people complaining of symptoms of coronavirus (20%). [4] That is why, analysing the effects of the current pandemic was difficult since there was no precaution for this upcoming pandemic while mobility among countries was in high demand in pre-pandemic times.

According to Gössling, Scott and Hall, “However, to an extent the rise and fall of academic interest in the relationship between tourism and pandemics is reflective of that of the wider industry and also governments, given that tourism has been affected by disease outbreaks numerous times since the turn of the millennium. Most importantly, there have been several warnings that pandemics posed a major threat to society and tourism from both tourism (Gossling, 2002; Hall, 2006, 2020; Page & Yeoman, 2007; Scott & Gossling, 2015) and health researchers (Bloom & Cadarette, 2019; Fauci & Morens, 2012), as well as government agencies (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, 2017, 2018) and institutions (Jonas, 2014; World Bank, 2012).” [5] It can easily be comprehended from every new tourism incident, tourism is a highly dynamic multidisciplinary sector, and has various subsectors which can also have an effect, or be affected. Some examples of tourism subsectors are transportation, accommodation, catering, MICE, tour operators and tourist guiding.

Crisis management should have been organized among countries and tourism establishments to protect society from the pandemic. For example, currently the UNWTO has shared “Global Guidelines to Restart Tourism” and there are ten crosscutting measures which need to be applied to all tourism establishments. They are broadly about protecting guests from COVID-19 with NIPs (Nonpharmaceutical Interventions) [6], implementing new technologies and usage of digital communication, protecting the health of guests through health insurance, promoting the local economy and domestic tourism, promoting personalized services, managing total capacity. [7] Developing countries are more dependent upon tourism for economic growth. After the damaging impacts of the pandemic have been calculated, UNWTO tourism recovery plan is formulated and, in this plan, the viral importance of being ready for any crisis highlighted as the UNWTO have stated: “Prepare for crises, build resilience and ensure tourism is part of national emergency mechanisms and systems.” [8]

Could COVID-19 be the “final straw” for a change in tourism?

It should be underlined that COVID-19 is not the only “problem” facing global tourism. There are other world issues which are not as immediate as COVID-19, but could affect the tourism industry in a much greater way. These are the climate change, pollution, carbon footprint, water resource crises, plastic usage and lack of waste management issues which have greatly impacted and may have a greater impact such as cultural and environmental harm, immigration to other countries (because of drought and flooding), the global lack of water in the planet. These problems are also current because if authorities do not take evasive actions now, the results will be greater than the current pandemic. “The Tourism sector has a high climate and environmental footprint requiring heavy energy and fuel consumption and placing stress on land systems (UNWTO). The map of global carbon movements shows that travelling is largely a high-income affair, and as a result carbon embodied in tourism flows mainly between high income countries acting both as traveller, residence and destinations. About half of the global total footprint was caused by travel between countries with a per capita GDP of more than US$25,000.” [9] This situation has been mentioned many times by United Nations especially in “COVID-19 and Transforming Tourism Policy Brief”: “This crisis also calls for a stronger framework to measure the full impacts of tourism and build evidence-based policies. Tourism could step up data intelligence systems, science-based approaches and assessment mechanisms based on clear indicators and targets, such as the ongoing process to adopt the Measuring Sustainable Tourism Initiative, which aims to measure the three dimensions of tourism sustainability – economic, socio-cultural and environmental – and the UNWTO International Network of Sustainable Tourism Observatories”[10]

The importance of the socio-cultural effects of tourism on society cannot be overlooked and new trends can be developed to counteract them. As professor of socio-cultural anthropology Nelson Graburn has declared “Using the first-person plural (unafraid to close down the gap between tourists and anthropologists), Graburn (1978) concluded that upon their return, tourists no longer were their former selves: ‘We are a new person who has gone through recreation and, if we do not feel renewed, the whole point of tourism has been missed’. Transformation is thus introduced as an important and, indeed, intrinsic part of the tourist experience: either the tourist experience changes the tourist or it is not a tourist experience at all (see also Graburn, 1983)”[11]

Phanta Rhei and Changing Tourist Behaviour

While evaluating the current crisis we can remind philosophy of Heraclitus (Greek philosopher of Ephesus) “Panta Rhei”, which means that “everything flows” [12] He said “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” Tourism has a high potential to trigger changes in societies through “the tourist”. Tourism is a key to transform the current crisis to better conditions for people, culture and environment (UNWTO). According to United Nations “Such transformation would be in line with changing consumer demand. Mountain tourism, nature, heritage, cultural and adventure tourism are predicted to grow rapidly over the next two decades. It is estimated that global spending on ecotourism will increase at a higher rate than the average industry-wide growth. However, this could increase pressure on sensitive environments and heritage sites if not well planned and properly managed. Tourism could also foster more responsible travel behaviour, as promoted by the World Committee on Tourism Ethics.” [13]

Tourist behaviour is influenced by a number of factors; personal economic wellbeing and disposable income, changes in cost, perceived health risks, and changed capacities for consumption as a result of pandemic restrictions (Lee & Chen, 2011). [14] Tourist purchase decisions will change according to heath precautions of the destinations. UNWTO has already declared an international code to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 outbreak in international tourism. “International Code for the Protection of Tourists” is for restore tourists’ confidence through a common and harmonized framework. [15]

Nehir Önen


[1] “Rebuilding tourism for the future: COVID-19 policy responses and recovery”, OECD, October 22, 2020,

[2] P.S, Sibi & Das O.P, Arun & B.A, Mohammed, “Changing Paradigms of Travel Motivations Post Covid- 19”, Volume 11, Issue 11, pp. 489-500, November 2020, doi: 10.34218/IJM.11.11.2020.047

[3] Stefan Gössling, Daniel Scott & C. Michael Hall, “Pandemics, tourism and global change: a rapid assessment of COVID-19, Journal of Sustainable Tourism”, doi:

[4] Andreas Deckert, Till Bärnighausen & Nicholas NA Kyei, “Simulation of pooled-sample analysis strategies for COVID-19 mass testing”, Introduction, WHO, July 6, 2020, WHO | Simulation of pooled-sample analysis strategies for COVID-19 mass testing

[5] Stefan Gössling, Daniel Scott & C. Michael Hall, “Pandemics, tourism and global change: a rapid assessment of COVID-19, Journal of Sustainable Tourism”, doi:

[6] Nonpharmaceutical Interventions (NPIs),

[7] “Global Guidelines to Restart Tourism”, UNWTO, May 28, 2020,

[8] “Supporting Jobs and Economies Through Travel & Tourism, A Call for Action to Mitigate the Socio-Economic Impact of COVID-19 and Accelerate Recovery”, III. Preparing for Tomorrow (20.), UNWTO, April 1, 2020,

[9] Manfred Lenzen , Ya-Yen Sun, Futu Faturay & Yuan-Peng Ting , Arne Geschke & Arunima Malik, “The carbon footprint of global tourism”, Nature Research, June 2020, doi: 10.1038/s41558-018-0141-x

[10] Policy Brief: COVID-19 and Transforming Tourism, United Nations, August 2020,

[11] Sofia Sampaio, Valerio Simoni & Cyril Isnart, “Tourism and transformation: negotiating metaphors, experiencing change, Journal of Tourism and Cultural Change”, 12:2, 93-101, June 16, 2004, doi: 10.1080/14766825.2014.924674

[12] The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia®. S.v. "Panta Rhei." Retrieved December 2, 2020,

[13] “Policy Brief: COVID-19 and Transforming Tourism”, United Nations, August 2020,

[14] Stefan Gössling, Daniel Scott & C. Michael Hall, “Pandemics, tourism and global change: a rapid assessment of COVID-19, Journal of Sustainable Tourism”, doi:

[15] “New International Code to Provide Greater Legal Protection for Tourists”, UNWTO, November 2, 2020,

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