Author: Juliana Bettini Denise Levy Luciana Sagi

Global tourism resilience day: Recommendations for crisis and disaster management in the tourism sector

Source(s): Inter-American Development Bank (IDB)

We live in a constantly changing world, making it essential to prepare for facing challenges in contemporary life. 

Tourism is a sector that has been affected by various crises and disasters over the years, ranging from extreme weather events to economic and political crises. In the past three years alone, the COVID-19 pandemic, large-scale forest fires, and international conflicts have significantly impacted the sector. In this context, resilience is crucial. Being prepared and mitigating impacts are fundamental premises for managing tourist destinations, which are increasingly exposed to adverse situations capable of destabilizing or paralyzing the sector.

In the case of Brazil, despite the evident relevance of resilience in tourism, gaps have been identified related to the availability of objective and operational information to support decision-making by public and private actors. To help close these gaps, the Inter-American Development Bank and the Ministry of Tourism of Brazil developed an educational booklet titled “Towards Tourism Resilience: Crisis and Disaster Management,” which provides an overview of how crisis and disaster management in Brazilian tourism has evolved over the years and indicates paths that tourist destinations can follow to achieve greater resilience. This roadmap can be applied not only in Brazil but also in other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. In this blog post, we share some of the main topics addressed in the booklet.

Crises, Disasters, and Climate Change

Crises and disasters generate instability, problems, and various negative impacts, making it essential to take necessary measures to minimize damages and, if possible, prevent them before they occur. However, first, we must understand the differences between these concepts, which are generally related to the root of the problem. In this regard, there is a level of consensus that establishes that when the cause is an internal event, such as a lack of management capacity or failure to adapt to change, we speak of a crisis; when the cause is something beyond our control and relates to external aspects, we speak of a disaster[1].

Different types of crises and disasters can affect the tourism sector, both at the destination and organizational levels. Based on Ritchie’s framework (2009) [2], the following categories are identified:

• Disasters associated with physical or natural, biological, and technological phenomena, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

• Political crises and disasters, such as the war between Russia and Ukraine in 2022.

• Economic crises, such as the global financial crisis of 2008.  

• Internal conflicts, violence, and insecurity, such as tourist kidnappings and robberies.

• Mega-disasters, such as the Fukushima nuclear plant accident in 2011.

When discussing crises and disasters, addressing climate change is also essential. Climate change involves long-term changes in temperatures and climate patterns that can be natural or directly or indirectly attributed to human activity, leading to various social, cultural, environmental, and economic impacts, triggering several crises and disasters. The tourism sector, on one hand, contributes to climate change (e.g., through transportation-related emissions) but is also highly vulnerable to these changes, such as increased incidence of extreme weather events and rising sea levels, among others.

Resilience refers to the capacity of a system to adapt and recover from adverse situations. There is an increasing need to comprehensively address measures focused on climate change in the tourism sector, as well as measures designed to prevent crises and disasters, aiming for greater resilience. In tourism, this means being able to face and overcome crises and disasters, minimizing their impacts, and strengthening the sector. Thus, tourist destinations and businesses can recover more quickly from crises and disasters, maintaining their competitiveness and long-term sustainability.

Prevention, Planning, and Learning

To promote resilience, a Crisis and Disaster Management Plan in Tourism must be developed, focusing on a destination, company, or organization. Some common characteristics relevant when elaborating such plans include:

• Shared responsibility matrix: Crises and disasters affecting tourism can also impact other sectors, populations, infrastructure, and territories in general. Therefore, it is essential for various key actors to be involved in the crisis planning and management process. A common practice observed worldwide is the creation of specific committees or councils, mostly intergovernmental and intersectoral.

• Preparation for crisis and disaster situations: Being “ready” is important, which involves having plans in place but also conducting crisis and disaster response exercises, training teams and professionals operating in destinations, and establishing mechanisms for collecting and disseminating information and alerts.

• Risk identification: Involves mapping and evaluating potential situations that may arise, as well as the relative probability of occurrence and their potential to become crises or disasters. It is the starting point in crisis and disaster management models and systems. It may include specific territorial information related to risks and identify their impacts on specific groups (such as tourists, for example).

• Risk mitigation: Based on risk mapping, specific measures should be established to minimize expected damages, consequences, and impacts for the various key actors identified. The selection of measures should consider, among other factors, the availability of resources, local capacities, and be conducted in a participatory manner. Risk mitigation measures in the tourism sector may include support structures for evacuation, transmission of informational alerts, travel suspension recommendations, etc.

• Formulation of rapid responses: These are dedicated to the immediate consequences of an event, to be implemented in a still chaotic phase. Initially operational in nature, they will focus on controlling damage to human life and property/infrastructure. They may include activating internal crisis and disaster management committees, collecting and sharing information about the situation’s status, monitoring its evolution.

• Establishing minimums for the recovery and resumption phase: Focused on restoring the operation of the destination and/or organizations safely and to the minimum required quality. It includes actions related to supporting the continuity of tourist service operations, restoring damaged infrastructure, communication, and implementing marketing strategies.

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