Don’t Panic Mr Mannering!
By Ian Yeoman, Associate Professor at Victoria University School of Management
It has being the widely accepted view amongst governments and health agencies that it was only a matter of time before another flu pandemic. The world has faced similar situations in 1919, 1954 and 1968 so another one is due soon. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has being stuck at stage 3 of the Global Influenza Preparedness Plan for the last 3 years. In June 2008, WHO statistics indicated a 0.4% mortality rate among infected and seeking treatment in advanced OECD countries. That's 16,694 kiwi deaths. A report by the New Zealand Government in 2005 Pandemic Planning: Treasury Work on Potential Economic Issuesreported the worse case scenario of something akin to Spanish Flu of 1919, "one or more waves of influenza lasting eight weeks or so could be expected, during which upto 40% of the population could contract influenza, with 2% of those infected dying of the disease. This could result in up to 33,000 deaths". The same report by the Treasury estimates the economic impact to be $15-$30 billion in the first year, and $25-$40 billion over four years, with the tourism industry being impacted the most in the following way:
- Border controls
- World reduction in travel by air
- Many hubs closed
- Fear of flying
- Visitors caught each side of border
- Months of recovery
- Major problems
However, it is important to remember:
A Health Issue: Human Influenza is a health issue not a tourism issue, therefore the primary responsibility lies with the Ministry of Health. Decisions about what to do, are therefore made on a clinical rather than tourism or business grounds. Tourism decisions are as a result of health and clinical directives.
Perception of Human Influenza: The world is robust and has survived the pandemics of 1919, 1954 and 1968 as the mortality rate for Human Influenza is 0.5% not 100%. Nevertheless, the media may portray the mutation of Swine Flu into Human Influenza as something more akin to Dengue Fever or Ebola as seen in the Hollywood film 'Outbreak'. Such a false information scenario only creates panic and stifle the clinical management of the situation. Clear and precise communication strategies are necessary.
The Need for Robust Business Continuity Planning: The mutation of Swine Flu into a Human Influenza causes confusion and uncertainty. Therefore it is necessary for the tourism industry to have clear business continuity plans that specifically deals with different scenarios at stages 4 and 5. The role of the tourism industry is to work with the Ministry of Health to ensure the correct planning occurs. Good examples of planning include the Reserve Bank of New Zealand practical guide to pandemics. The plan gives clear guidelines on what to do etc, it's essential that business adopt such guidelines, whether they are small or large.
The key messages from the New Zealand government during a pandemic will be:
- Stock up home emergency supplies
- Extend social distancing, avoid crowded places and people who have 'flu' symptoms
- Wash and dry hands frequently
- Don't cough and sneeze over people
- Stay home if unwell
- Know who is living on their own
- Set up a contact network
If the worst case scenario occurs, tourism will cease to be an economic function during that time period. The focus for tourism will be post recovery planning. The last thing we need to do is panic like Corporal Jones in the BBC TV series Dad's Army.
For more information see www.moh.govt.nz/pandemicinfluenza
Articles on pandemic planning by Dr Ian Yeoman, click here
Ian Yeoman is the world's only professional crystal ball gazer or futurologist specializing in travel and tourism. Ian learned his trade as the scenario planner for VisitScotland, where he established the process of futures thinking within the organisation using a variety of techniques including economic modelling, trends analysis and scenario construction. In May 2008, Ian was appointed an Assoc. Professor of Tourism Management at Victoria University, He is a popular speaker at conferences and was described by the UK Sunday Times as the country's leading contemporary futurologist.
Ian has a PhD in Management Science from Napier University, Edinburgh and a BSc (Hons) in Catering Systems from Sheffield Hallam University. Previously, Ian was Senior Lecturer in Tourism and Hospitality Management at Napier University and University College, Birmingham. He has extensive experience within the hospitality industry, for which he was a hotel manager with Trusthouse Forte.
Ian has received a number of awards in recognition of his research including his appointment as a Honorary Professor of Tourism Management at Stirling University and the Mike Simpson Award from the Operational Research Society.
More details about Ian and futurology in the travel industry can be at www.tomorrowstourist.com