H1N1 in Elderly and Impact on the Tourism Industry

Introduction

In the world, many people regard tourism as the main accelerator of infectious epidemics (Beitsch et al, 2006). Traveling from one place to another can be an actual transmission of infectious diseases, or act as a means of acquiring infectious diseases from other regions. Experiences in the past have shown that outbreaks of infectious epidemics can negatively affect the economic strength of the tourism industry, especially among elderly people. This paper analyses the recent H1N1 epidemic for the elderly in the tourism industry. Although the effects of the H1N1 pandemic for the elderly were felt throughout the world, Mexico was the worst-hit country. This is because the first signs and victims were from there, back in April 2009, but influenza quickly spread to several other countries in the world.

Some media reporters refer to influenza as the Mexico flu. By the time the World Health Organization (WHO) was informed to take action, the effects were feared to be very critical, thus the Organization directed the situation to be mitigated. After a world check on influenza, by the WHO, It was noted that although the disease had not spread in many countries as earlier feared, it could in the future be more serious than even influenza that was in Spain in 1918, that led to the death of more than fifty million people. Fortunately, the world was well prepared by WHO regulations that were passed in the year 2005, for such pandemics (Washington, 2009). However, even with these preparations, WHO in collaboration with other organizations that help to prevent and Control diseases still can’t control and respond to diseases outbreak such as H1N1 due to lack of adequate resources (Campbell, 2005).

The pandemic spread very fast and was declared an international disaster by WHO on June 11, 2009, with the US president also ratifying it as a global concern that greatly affected the tourism industry, especially among the elderly people. As a result, the world started taking seriously the effects of the H1N1 pandemic with the international regulations on health for the first time in history allowing for an organized international response law to carry out tests for elderly people traveling from one country to another. The main reason for this measure was to control against further spread of the pandemic and guide efforts towards informed and effective health services. In addition, the move was aimed at mitigating on the effects of the disease while upholding human right values and ensuring that free trade and tourism among countries was not derailed unnecessarily (Gostin, 2006).

Literature review

World Health Regulations demand that all countries treat those people who are traveling, particularly the elderly, with dignity and utmost respect. States have also been given their fundamental freedoms under the same regulations. The regulations permit the countries to issue restrictions on people who are invading or intruding in their countries but should not ask for vaccinations or medical examinations reports as a pre-condition for entry even from the elderly people. The regulation also did not allow for the countries of destination to demand health documents, apart from those specific ones allowed by the international World Health regulations. The countries may however advise their citizens against traveling in some countries, especially when there is an epidemic outbreak (Fidler and Gostin, 2006).

The world Health guidelines, in line with the International trade Organization regulations, demand that trade and travel restrictions be based on actual scientific proof including the risk evaluations. However, we find that when the H1N1 epidemic was reported to be rapidly spreading, many countries gave strict warnings to their citizen not to travel to the affected countries. Some states took the elderly people, who were visiting their countries through a vigorous medical checkup of influenza. Of course, this had a great impact on the tourism industries since the numerous elderly tourists, who had planned to travel, canceled their plans. The report shows that the aviation, hotel, and restaurant industries were greatly affected especially in Mexico, in the first month of the scourge (Washington, 2009).

The actual impact that was encountered by the industries was very critical as it resulted in many countries issuing travel restrictions even to the older generation tourists. Although many states were well aware of the WHO regulations they reported the H1N1 as a deadly epidemic and argued that the Organization had no ground or authority to penalize them. It is evident that although the World international Organization offers guidelines on travel and trade restrictions many states went against them (World Health Organization, 2008). Some even considered the regulations as not binding at all. When the H1N1 scourge broke, WHO advised that traveling guidelines and restrictions would barely stop the spread of the epidemic but may not greatly affect the tourism industry (Chan, 2009).

Most countries, including the United States, continued issuing traveling bans against traveling to Mexico with China suspending all the flights between the two states and also evacuating all their Chinese tourists, most of whom were elderly, from Mexico. Singapore and Japan went the extra mile and gave the suspected H1N1 patients, including those who had attained the age of sixty, special and additional visa requirements and demands for medical tests (Gostin, 2006). In addition, they demanded that Mexicans make their applications by mail to avoid physical contact. These limitations and restrictions greatly affected the tourist industry. The outbreak of the H1N1, in a big way, affected the free socialization of local elderly tourists, in many parts of the world.

This is because it involved close down of public places where most people, especially the wealthy and old, converged to have fun and make business deals. It also led to the closure of learning institutions where children of the elderly acquired knowledge and also introduced a ban on transporting people in masses. Most of the Asian states that were in the past affected by the infectious SARS aggressively responded to H1N1 by issuing restrictions for international travelers that adversely affected the elderly people in the tourism industry (Campbell, 2005). For example, Hong Kong and China decided to confine tourists to one place especially the elderly tourists from Canada, Mexico, and the United States. In Singapore, if a person, despite the age, was reported to have visited Mexico, in the recent past was strictly required to stay at home. Moreover, thermal scanners were installed in hospitals and airports (Chan, 2009). All these efforts were done to control the H1N1 epidemic spread. As a result, it ended up greatly affecting the elderly in the tourism industry (Beitsch et al, 2006).

Research Methods

Research Design

The initial stage in this research paper mainly involved a thorough study of the topical relevant issues in an attempt to fully comprehend and identify the required scope and goals of the survey. Various quantitative and mixed research methods were examined for use but the qualitative survey method was adopted for use in the study in which questionnaires were distributed among the elderly tourists and officers from the tourism department, health department, and from the airport terminus.

A research design consists of different frameworks that are used for the collection and analysis of data. Qualitative research is the method that would be adopted for the study. According to Salgae, et al (2000), qualitative research is ‘subjective’, and Goh, (2000) argues that a study is qualitative if the purpose of the study is primarily to describe a situation, phenomenon, problem, or event. He believes that it is an unstructured, flexible, open methodology. Goh, (2000) also stresses that qualitative research, even when theoretically informed, is the most open-ended and hence least biased type of study. Exploratory research is an important aspect of qualitative research; here, the interview technique is usually selected as a method of data collection. This is what the study intends to employ in collecting data to get raw and current information, together with questionnaire administration among the selected respondents.

Data Collection Methods

In this stage, a classification of the data sources was done effectively resulting in two categories; the primary and the secondary sources of the raw data. The primary source has consisted of the original information that was provided specifically for this particular study. Questionnaires totaling one hundred and fifty were distributed to the respondents to provide this information. The secondary source on the other hand consisted mainly of the information that was obtained through the various library materials and relevant journals.

Kaufman, (2001), observed that researchers should first consider alternatives to questionnaire construction because questionnaire construction is invariably an imperfect research activity, that is why the second part of the data collection will be based on a one-on-one interview in form of what Goh, (2000) tagged semi-structured interview. According to him, this form of interview uses ‘open’ and ‘closed-ended questioning and it is more formal than the unstructured interview in that there are a number of specific topics around which to build the interview. However, Goh, (2000) warned that the same care must be taken in developing interview questions and response formats as is taken in developing questionnaires, but believes interviews can help researchers refine questions to be asked and response formats to be used. A set of questions will be structured to interview respondents that would be available. The questions were designed to give an insight on the interviewees’ personal assessment and/or experience on the effects of H1N1 for the elderly on tourism.

Data and Descriptive Analysis

The findings from the study as provided by the questionnaires were analyzed through the SPSS (Statistical Package for the Social Sciences) software. SPSS proved to be the best program as it offered a wide range of capabilities for the detailed analysis required throughout the project. The information from the respondents was entered into the SPSS to generate the mean and mode that was later used to conclude the study. A thorough descriptive analysis was carried out to facilitate the interpretation of the data collected. The study adopted frequency analysis as its main descriptive analysis tool in examining the variables presented by the various respondents.

Data Analysis and Results

Respondents

A total of 150 questionnaires were distributed to various individuals and government departments that deal with the tourists as well as the healthy facilities However, only 131 questionnaires were received back for tabulation. Due to the incomplete nature and inconsistency of the information from 14 of the questionnaires received, only 117 of them were used for analytical purposes that representing 78% of the originally intended sample.

Respondent’s Type

The questionnaires were distributed randomly among the targeted respondents and as shown in the pie chart below 40% of the respondents were independent individuals believed to be frequent international travelers while the rest were distributed between the health, tourism, and airport officials as shown. The participation by different types of respondents helped in balancing out the views of the data because the issues of health and particularly on infectious ailments may be treated differently by different groups of people.

Respondent’s Type

Individual Respondents’ age

The focus of this study was mainly on the elderly people and therefore priority to participate in the survey was given to those individuals that were beyond the age of 50 years. As it can be deduced from the table below, most of the respondents were between the age of 56 and 65 years.

Age of the Respondents (Years) Sample size Percentage
51 – 55 13 11%
56 – 60 34 29%
61 – 65 39 33%
66 – 70 17 15%
Above 70 14 12%

Table 1.

Respondents’ Experience in tourism industry

This data was collected mainly to ascertain the reliability of the results based on the experience of the respondents in the field of the study. Whereas only a fraction of the respondents were directly drawn from the tourism sector, the rest of the respondents had their experiences in the sector either as tourists or service givers. The criteria for selecting respondents in all the sectors were based on the experience so that the knowledge of the tourism industry before, during, and after the H1N1 pandemic and its comparative advantage can be captured in the study. The chart below shows how the respondents were selected based on their experiences in the tourism industry.

Percentage Frequency of Respondents Based on the Period of service in the Tourism Industry

The data received from all the respondents were entered in the SPSS software for processing. From the findings, 78% of the respondents strongly felt that H1N1 for the elderly had a great negative impact on the tourism industry. Only 6% of the respondents did not see the link between the H1N1 for the elderly to the tourism sector. Table 2 shows the distribution of the analyzed data from the various respondents against the different variables assessed during the survey.

Variables % Frequency
Strongly Disagree Disagree Neutral Agree Strongly Agree
H1N1 for the elderly is a Global concern 2 12 17 49 20
H1N1 pandemic was mainly a product of international traveling. 2.7 13.3 15.3 47.3 21.4
H1N1 for the elderly has impacted negatively on the global tourism industry and trade 2 4 4 67 23
Traveling restrictions is a good solution to the H1N1 pandemic 1.3 6 22.7 48.7 21.3
World Health Organization’s regulations have been very effective in taming the spread of H1N1 4.7 14 19.3 50 12
International health regulations have contributed positively to curbing H1N1 0.7 18.7 30.7 40.7 9.3
Governments around the world are overreacting on the approach towards H1N1 37.3 10.7 36 14.7 1.3

Table 2.

Discussion of the findings

From the survey, it has been apparent that H1N1 is a global concern that requires more stringent measures to permanently stop its effect. Tourism has been one of the major foreign exchange earners for many nations as well as a means of recreation for millions of people worldwide especially the elderly. With many traveling advises against visiting some destinations with other countries issuing restrictions for travelers from some given countries due to fear of spreading H1N1 the tourism sector has been hard hit and consequently the economy of many countries are equally affected. While it is in the interest of health workers and governments to ensure that the flu is contained and eliminated many patients and suspected individuals may have felt deprived of their human rights. The international regulations aimed at reducing the spread of influenza, mitigating its effects, and salvaging the tourism sector have had borne fruits.

Conclusion

It is evident that when H1N1 influenza emerged the greatest affected population was elderly in the tourism industry. Therefore there is a need to check how any such future attack can be globally controlled. The most viable way to mitigate such serious effects of a deadly scourge like the H1N1 from affecting the world and particularly the tourism industry is by ensuring that the World Health Organization guidelines and regulations are formulated and implemented (Chan, 2009). All the countries should take an active role in building the infrastructure for pandemics surveillance and also response. However, it is worth noting that most of the developing countries, those in the middle and the low-income brackets do not have sufficient health infrastructures for their citizens. Therefore, there is a need to assist those countries with both technical assistance and resources. If this is not facilitated, many people in industries like the tourism sector remain vulnerable. The entire world is still at risk of future pandemic attacks that can even sweep the entire globe.

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