When a new viral outbreak like Zika occurs, panic ensues. People fear the unknown: transmission method, symptoms, prognosis and how widespread it might already be. This fear can paralyze an economy that usually thrives on tourism, according to Melanie Grand, assistant professor in the hospitality leadership department at Missouri State University.
Recently, Grand developed a formula to predict the decrease in tourism in the cases of viral outbreak. She modeled her study around the first noted cases of West Nile virus in the United States in 1999-2000. She explains more about the study.
From her experience and research, Grand recommends the U.S. government move quickly to develop vaccines and communicate frequently about the known aspects of these outbreaks. On a more grass-roots level, Grand believes it’s important for local government officials to appear prepared, because that can go a long way to reducing panic.
Grand used her training in zoology, biology and hospitality to develop the study, which factors in components like the number of nights the outbreak is featured on news broadcasts and the transmission method (for example: airborne, person-to-person contact or sexually transmitted). This combination accounts for the majority of the fear factor, she noted, especially when talking about cities with international visitors and travelers.