3 COVID-19 Vs. Tourism

Thomas Neeser


As the Coronavirus continues spreading all across the globe, it has left behind a mark like no other. With tens of millions of cases worldwide, the virus has become a hot topic of discussion among many different industries. Tourism, like many other industries, has been destroyed by COVID-19. Traveling for vacation, or even just to see family is no longer possible because of the damages inflicted by the virus. It is a serious issue that has affected the development of new technology in the industry. With no foreseeable end to this virus, the tourism industry could fall even further, and create a serious problem of unemployment. Despite all of the harsh backlash that the Coronavirus has created, there are those in support of the argument that it has had a positive impact on the environment, and could help to reduce global warming. However, the Coronavirus has negatively impacted the tourism industry across the world according to the travel ban, the low economic state of tourist heavy countries, and the decline of technology used in tourism.

How this Topic Relates to STS

The topic of Tourism and the coronavirus follows directly in line with the Actor-Network theory. The Actor-Network theory states that any phenomenon that occurs on our planet is a direct result of the interaction of multiple actors, both human and non-human. With the virus starting due to non-human causes and it spreading because of human actors, the pandemic is a perfect example of the Actor-Network theory. The linkage between humans, technology and COVID-19 has been noted by many recent peer reviewed studies on tourism. Nižetić, in an article on the Coronavirus, air travel, and the environment noted “Airliners are experiencing serious economic constraints caused by COVID‐19, which has led to bankruptcy for some of them as already addressed above. Therefore, air transport mobility needs to be improved, even for a short term, to avoid the collapse of the global airline industry” (5). This quote shows that COVID‐19 was the cause of the decline of the tourism industry, which proves it is directly related to the Actor-Network theory. Another study on COVID-19 and tourism by Scott et al. mentioned, “Unprecedented global travel restrictions and stay-at-home orders are causing the most severe disruption of the global economy since World War II” (3). This quote is further proof to the connection between COVID‐19 and tourism to the Actor-Network theory.

How the Travel Ban is Causing the Decline of the Tourism Industry.

This first image depicts the Corona Virus, which supposedly began in China and quickly spread all across the globe. The virus was labeled as a pandemic due to how quickly it spread, and how deadly it has been so far

First, it is important to understand what caused the decline of the tourism industry. The Coronavirus is an airborne virus that is extremely dangerous to the elderly and those with underlying conditions. In order to suppress the spread of the virus, countries all across the globe have implemented travel bans to some extent. A travel ban does not allow people to move from country to country, and international travel in most countries is extremely restricted. As it stands, a travel ban could last for multiple years due to how unexpected the virus will remain a serious threat. Tourism accounts for a large portion of many countries’ wealth, and travel bans have completely halted the flow of tourists to many parts of the world. According to U.S. Travel Association, a non-profit organization representing the tourism industry in the country, 850,000 international visitors flying from Europe (excluding the U.K.) entered the U.S. in March of 2019, accounting for about 29% of total overseas arrivals to the U.S. These visitors spent approximately $3.4 billion in the U.S. (D’Souza). The Coronavirus has set a huge obstacle for the tourism industry. Travel bans will continue to be in effect for more time, and could cause irreversible damage on the industry. The US tourism industry that generates $2.6 trillion in economic output and supports 15.8 million jobs in the U.S, and Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association has noted that COVID-19’s impact on travel can be described as “ ‘six or seven times greater than the 9/11 attacks,’ says . (Becker). With a comparison like that, it is hard to understand just how much more the industry could be afflicted in the coming years.

Economic Decline Caused by the Downfall of the Tourism Industry

Furthermore, the Coronavirus has caused many tourism heavy countries to enter an economic crisis. With the continued implementation of the travel ban, it is impossible for any sort of international travel to occur. Many countries such as Japan, the United States, Brazil, and Spain have economies that rely heavily on tourism. These countries are losing billions of dollars, and thousands of people are being laid off from their jobs. If there is no demand for Tourism, companies will have to reduce their size in order to maintain any chance of not going bankrupt. With the outbreak of the virus beginning in China, it has been found that “According to the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), Chinese tourists spent the equivalent of $ 277 billion abroad in 2018; it is announced to be 21% of global travel spending by UNWTO. Now, recent travel restrictions due to pandemic, not just the mobility of the Chinese tourist but also international mobility ceased to exist”  (Uğur and Akbıyık 1). The role that China plays in tourism is crucial. As the most populated country in the world, it is obvious that their residents would like to travel to other countries. Considering that the virus originally began in China, the country was a hotspot at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. This stop in the flow of income for many tourist-heavy countries has caused an economic depression unlike any other. It is important to understand that those in the airline industries are not the only ones affected. A huge part of tourism is the hotel business, an industry that is very profitable. As the amount of cases rise, countless jobs have been destroyed and a new wave of unemployment has hit. One of the best examples is the Palmer house Hilton, which has been one of Chicago’s grandest hotels for more than a century. Over the past 15 years, the owner spent $173 million to overhaul the hotel, modernizing most of the 1,641 rooms. The Palmer house Hilton quickly experienced the effects of the Coronavirus, as it faces impending foreclosure (Grant 3). The Hilton has been a landmark symbol for the tourism industry, and its foreclosure only goes to show just much devastation the virus has brought.

How Coronavirus has Affected the Unemployment Rate 

This image shows the unemployment rate from the last major economic recession in 2008. The numbers now are even higher. Goes to show the impact the virus has made in such little time.

Unemployment, like the Coronavirus, is one of the many various issues that the world is dealing with at the moment. A Pew Research Center study in August 2020 noted that “The rise in the number of unemployed workers due to COVID-19 is substantially greater than the increase due to the Great Recession” (Kochhar 2). This quote gives insight on how hard this virus has hit the United States, comparing it to the economic recession that lasted from 2007 to 2009. While it is difficult to retrieve an actual number due to measurement challenges caused by the virus, the unemployment rate is more comparable to that of the Great Depression, which occurred in 1929. While this estimate includes all American industries and businesses, the tourism industry in particular “is predicted to see a loss of 100 million jobs worldwide in 2020. As a result, GDP generated by travel and tourism is predicted to decrease worldwide. The Asia Pacific region has the highest number of jobs at risk and therefore the highest potential loss of GDP at 1.04 trillion U.S. dollars” (Lock 1). This rate of unemployment caused by the Coronavirus could lead to more extreme levels of poverty than have not been seen in the last fifty years. The hospitality and tourism industry account for hundreds of millions of jobs worldwide, which are all at risk now.

The Rise of e-Tourism

However the same cannot be said for the tourism industry. As COVID-19 continues to spread, the revenue generated by corporations within the industry are dropping significantly. This is leading to a halt in the development of new technologies like more fuel efficient travel, developments within the hotel industry, and much more. However, pandemics are not new in the tourism industry. They play a rather large factor in the development of the industry and how it moves forward. Although the Coronavirus seems to have left a lasting impact on the economic state of the tourism industry, it has allowed for the development of new technologies in e-tourism. E-tourism is the use of information technologies in the tourism industry. According to an academic study on the phenomenon, “Over the last three decades, e-Tourism, as a field of scientific inquiry, has evolved into a substantial body of knowledge with the focus of theory and information technology development aligned with core problems in tourism” (Gretzel et al. 4). As actual travel is currently not permitted, technology can be used in order to keep the tourism industry afloat during the pandemic. This breakthrough in technology could potentially save tourism in the future, but “The field of e-Tourism must now grapple with the two ‘fronts’ of a fast-changing new reality and tremendous prospects for long-term change” (Gretzel et al. 5). While it will potentially take years to develop the technology, it is the starting point of a new beginning.

The Impact of the Pandemic on the Environment

One common counter argument that is often brought up when discussing the effects of the Coronavirus on the tourism industry is that it is actually decreasing pollution. This argument relies on the fact that airliners are currently at a halt, and carbon dioxide emissions are at a low. It can be dismissed because despite the fact that airliners aren’t currently in use, countries have had to make a switch to more manufacturing in order to uphold their economies. Japan for example, has switched their economy from tourism heavy to manufacturing heavy, and the environmental impacts are just as devastating. With more machinery and technologies in function, the emissions of multiple toxic substances could become potentially dangerous. If these pollutants begin to increase, it could cause the virus to become more deadly. Harmful toxins such as carbon monoxide can cause lung damage, which puts people who contract the virus in an even worse position to survive.


In conclusion COVID-19 has negatively impacted the tourism industry across the world by forcing countries to implement travel bans. Travel bans were pivotal to the downfall of the tourism industry. Many countries that rely on tourism for their economic status entered economic despair. Millions of people across the globe lost jobs, sending the unemployment rates close to the Great Depression’s. However, as the tourism industry collapses the medical industry is quickly rising with forms of new technology created to combat the Coronavirus (Duddu). With the tourism industry losing billions of dollars, a path to create a new form of tourism using technology developed, creating e-tourism. The argument on whether or not the collapse of the tourism industry has had a positive impact on the environment can quickly be debunked when looking at all of the advancements countries have made in manufacturing technologies and equipment. This shift in economic production could result in a more polluted earth than before, which could make it harder for the elderly and those with underlying conditions to survive the Coronavirus. Overall, there are multiple reasons to prove that the Coronavirus has had lasting negative impacts on the tourism industry.


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D’Souza, Deborah. “The Economic Impact of the U.S. Travel Ban on Europe.” Investopedia, 12 Sept. 2020, www.investopedia.com/the-economic-impact-of-the-u-s-travel-ban-on-europe-4799571.

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Lock, S. “COVID-19: Loss in Global GDP from Unemployment in Tourism Industry by Region 2020.” Statista, 21 Aug. 2020, www.statista.com/statistics/1107493/coronavirus-travel-tourism-gdp-loss/.

Nižetić, Sandro. “Impact of Coronavirus (COVID‐19) Pandemic on Air Transport Mobility, Energy, and Environment: A Case Study.” International Journal of Energy Research, vol. 44, 2020, pp. 1095310961, https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1002/er.5706

Scott, Daniel, et al. “Pandemics, Tourism and Global Change: a Rapid Assessment of COVID-19.” Journal of Sustainable Tourism, vol. 29, no. 1, pp. 1-20, 2020, www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09669582.2020.1758708.

Uğur, Naciye Güliz, and Adem Akbıyık. “Impacts of COVID-19 on Global Tourism Industry: A Cross-Regional Comparison.” Tourism Management Perspectives, vol. 36, 2020, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7474895/.


“corona virus white low poly” by Philippe Put is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

“US unemployment rate, by county (Dec, 2008)” by MapScience is licensed under CC BY 2.0


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