From Zika outbreaks in Central America and the U.S. to terrorism and economic shifts in Europe to extreme weather conditions due to climate change — to be a world traveler today requires navigating a number of global uncertainties. And while travelers appear to remain resilient to these ongoing threats, there are still a number of steps travel providers can take to ensure their confidence remains high.
The one health risk on nearly everyone’s mind in the western hemisphere would no doubt be the Zika virus. The impact on the tourism economy in Brazil, Central America, the Caribbean, and the U.S. has been hard to ignore. According to a survey conducted by Allianz Global Assistance, winter travel in Florida during peak months in 2016-2017 is expected to drop by a staggering 15% due to Zika. Miami, the center of the Zika outbreaks in Florida, report bookings in the city are off 29.1% compared to last year. Even cities in Central Florida, such as Orlando, have seen a decrease in tourism. Puerto Rico’s meetings and conventions industry, which is often booked a year or more in advance, reported 41,000 hotel room cancellations from businesses for the next two years, resulting in a loss of $28 million, exacerbating the island’s existing financial issues.
As the western hemisphere deals with health risks, countries in Europe, Asia and the Middle East continue to battle safety risks posed by terrorism. Belgium, Germany, Turkey, Tunisia, and France endured large massacres in the past two years that have lead to a noticeable decline in tourism as travelers continue to view the region as unsafe. Tourism revenue in Paris was down a staggering billion dollars this year with luxury hoteliers in the city reporting a loss of 40% of guests this summer compared to last year. Turkey and Egypt saw a decline of 30% and 70%, respectively. At the same time, areas like Spain, Greece, Portugal have seen an influx in tourism as travelers have now deemed them safer than terrorist-stricken countries.
Climate change continues to be another obstacle for travelers. Caribbean islands continue to see increased beach erosions due to warming temperatures and rising sea levels. World Heritage sites like Easter Island in the Polynesian triangle risk being lost at sea due to coastal erosion, while others risk losing their status all together as weather conditions alter the attributes that attract tourists to them in the first place.
Despite these rising uncertainties, travel still continues to flourish. According to the Global Peace Index, the world has been a more violent place since 2008, yet the travel and tourism sector has seen exponential global growth. While a number of travelers continue to avoid areas they deem risky, an even greater number of travelers have chosen to contribute to this growth by becoming savvier and more geopolitically aware. European regions facing terrorism threats have seen immediate hits to their economy, but experts say, the impact is often temporary. The majority of modern travelers refuse to live in fear, allowing regions struck by terrorism to bounce back sooner than expected. Thanks to social media and online travel review sites, travelers are able to learn exactly what to expect rather than relying on the print and broadcast media alone, which can sometimes exaggerate travel threats.
Even Zika-plagued regions like Puerto Rico have found that leisure travel continues to move forward. In spite of the growing risk of Zika, the island expects to see an increase in cruise travel after conducting major updates to its main ports. And while the island still isn’t an ideal location for pregnant mothers or those trying to become pregnant, officials are assuring tourists that the island is more than safe for the average traveler.
Health and safety risks will always remain an issue for the global traveler, but they don’t appear to be a hindrance. Travel has become more global and accessible than ever before. The global travelers has ample opportunities to connect with other travelers — both digitally and physically — and regions they may have never considered decades ago. As countries and travel providers in regions around the globe fight to bounce back from health, safety, climate, and financial threats, it’s important the industry does its part to ensure travelers continue to feel confident move freely around the globe. Educating travelers, dispelling myths, and creating open dialogues are key to attracting the savvy traveler of today. The better informed travelers are about a region, the more likely they are to visit, making it a win-win for both the traveler and the industry.