- by Alison Booth

Tourism and dengue: A look at the effect of an unhealthy combination

Image of an online discussion on dengue and tourism in a travel forum.

For countries that depend on tourism, the economic cost of a dengue outbreak can be substantial. Afraid of catching the virus, tourists and their dollars stay away. But where are tourists learning about dengue outbreaks? Why are they staying away? And what is the real economic impact of a dengue outbreak? Let’s explore how dengue is affecting tourism.

We live in a world where tourists looking for a relaxing break have access to a wealth of information about their destinations. They simply turn to the web to find out about their planned destination. With search engines able to quickly gather information from many different sources, they quickly learn about any a dengue outbreak. The web also helps them learn not only about the virus itself but also how to minimize the risk of being bitten by an infected mosquito, what symptoms to look out for and much more.

Tourists warned about dengue activity

Firstly, they may find a multitude of official travel sources from governments and travel authorities around the world. These warn tourists of the potential risks of traveling to dengue-endemic countries.

The US Centre for Disease Control (CDC) warns:

“Travelers who go to tropical and subtropical regions are at risk of getting dengue. These areas include parts of the Caribbean, Central and South America, Western Pacific Islands, Australia, Southeast Asia, and Africa.”

The NHS ‘Fit for Travel’ website warns:

“Dengue fever is widespread throughout the tropics and subtropics, occurring in > 100 countries. Nearly 100 million clinical cases of dengue fever are thought to occur every year.

“Dengue is the second most commonly identified cause of fever in ill international travelers.”

Fit for Travel also provides relatively up-to-date information on current dengue outbreaks. The NHS website also advises tourists of the on-going outbreak in Sri Lanka: “According to media, the Sri Lankan Ministry of Health has reported 4,825 cases of dengue fever, including at least 2 deaths, in the first four weeks of 2019. …all travelers to regions where dengue occurs are potentially at risk of dengue fever and should be aware of this infection.”

And the on-going outbreak in Jamaica: “The Jamaican Ministry of Health has issued an outbreak alert following an increased number of dengue cases in December 2018. During that month, 123 cases of dengue were recorded in the country.”

Similarly, Health Travel Pro (travel health resources from the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC)) points tourists to factsheets on diseases along with news of outbreaks, recently highlighting an increase in dengue cases in Kenya.

Read more about dengue in Africa

Tourists can quickly and easily discover where dengue outbreaks are, how severe they are, and what local authorities are doing to combat them.

The online discussion around tourism and dengue

But it’s not only government and travel websites where tourists can learn about dengue outbreaks; they are also very active in discussing dengue on online forums, especially those set up by travel booking websites. When we searched for the term ‘dengue’ on TripAdvisor website, we found the disease mentioned within hotel and resort reviews:

And that it was also a very active topic of discussion on the website’s forums:

Image of online forum discussions on dengue and tourism.

We delved deeper into a discussion on the 2019 dengue outbreak in Jamaica on Trip Advisor to find out what the conversation looked like. It started with someone raising concerns about traveling to Jamaica with their family during the outbreak:

Image of a post from a discussion for asking about dengue risk in Jamaica.

The comment received nine replies in just a day and a half. Replies from other users included pointers to recent media stories covering recent dengue outbreaks in the country with some users people giving reassurance.  The risk of dengue clearly influences tourists when they are choosing where to spend their holidays – and their dollars.

Dengue’s economic impact on tourism

With not only governments and travel advice websites warning tourists of the risk of dengue but also their peers, what impact might a dengue outbreak have on a region? The economic impact of dengue could be significant for a region that depends on tourism.

There have been numerous studies into the economic cost of dengue, with some explicitly delving into its impact of the disease on tourism:

An article on the effect of dengue in tourism in Brazil concluded that “tourism revenue losses are significant, impacting the country economy and GDP” during a dengue outbreak. Researchers drew their conclusions by analyzing data from Brazil’s 2013 dengue outbreak, a year when the country saw almost 1.5 million suspected dengue cases according to PAHO data. They estimated “a conservative decrease of 4% in tourism in Brazil due to the dengue outbreak” with “an economic impact of US$132.3 million from international tourism and US$1.4 billion from local tourism”.

A more recent economic analysis of dengue prevention and case management in the Maldives concluded that the risk of dengue lowers the country’s gross annual income by a $110 per resident and its annual tax receipts by $14 per resident. Noting that tourism is the mainstay of the Maldives’ economy, it calculated that tourism generates an “annual income of $898 and tax revenues of $119 per resident”.

We can only conclude that dengue outbreaks influence where tourists choose to spend their holidays. With their dollars finding their way to countries where the risk of disease is lower, the economic impact can be significant.

Has your country experienced a fall in tourist numbers during or following a dengue outbreak? How did it react? We’d love to hear about the measures it took to combat the disease and to bring tourists back. What impact did these have?

Help reduce the impact of dengue in your area. Click below to report your local dengue fever activity to Dengue Track.

Dengue Track