BHSU-UF Study: Potential Florida visitors rethinking travel due to Algae Bloom Outbreak

Author: BHSU Communications/Thursday, July 21, 2016/Categories: 2016

Dr. Ignatius Cahyanto, assistant professor of tourism and hospitality management at BHSU, is lead researcher on a study examining impacts of the recent immense bloom of toxic blue-green algae covering Florida beaches and waterways. The study, jointly conducted by BHSU and the Tourism Crisis Management Initiative at the University of Florida, showed that more than half of potential Florida visitors are concerned with the outbreak.

The findings from a joint study conducted by Black Hills State University in Spearfish, S.D., and the Tourism Crisis Management Initiative (TCMI) at the University of Florida show more than half of potential Florida visitors are concerned with the recent immense bloom of toxic blue-green algae in the state.

Due to media coverage of the bloom that has covered some Florida beaches and waterways with a "guacamole-thick" mess, there is increased awareness of environmental and health concerns. "States of Emergency" have been declared in Martin, St. Lucie, Lee, and Palm Beach counties.

Findings from the recent BHSU-UF study show more than half of potential visitors are concerned with the outbreak. Among those who plan to visit Florida in the next three months, more than 70 percent would avoid traveling to an area that has been declared a "state of emergency." Half of those who indicated they changed their travel plans postponed their travel, while 32 percent went to other destinations in Florida with a lower chance of the presence of Harmful Algae Blooms (HAB).

The findings are from a joint study conducted by BHSU and the TCMI at the University of Florida that surveyed 611 potential domestic visitors who planned to go to Florida within the next 6 months during the second week of July. The study also found that over 3/4 of respondents lack knowledge of algae blooms and that two in every five respondents thought that HAB and "Red Tide" are the same thing.

"This lack of knowledge of HAB increases the perception of risk which is likely to result in a greater amount of travel avoidance," said Dr. Ignatius Cahyanto, assistant professor of tourism and hospitality management at BHSU, lead researcher of the study and affiliate researcher at TCMI. Cahyanto also pointed out that lack of knowledge of geographical areas affected by the outbreak may exacerbate perceptions of risk. The study found that more than half of the potential visitors think that Florida's Treasure Coast would be a bad choice for a family vacation right now, followed by Southwest Florida (45 percent) and Southeast Florida (37 percent).

The study also revealed that people would most likely turn to lifeguards for HAB-related safety information at the beaches (73 percent), followed by asking their local tourism organizations (66.5 percent).

"The findings highlight the important role of involving lifeguards and the local tourism organization in ensuring the safety of visitors, as well as combating the misperception of the HAB that visitors might have, one such misperception being that all beaches in Palm Beach Counties have been closed due to the outbreak," Cahyanto said.

As for the tourism industry, Cahyanto suggests that timely information about closed areas and health risks of the blooms connect with marketing strategies to counter losses linked to the perceived risk of algae bloom outbreak. Dr. Pennington-Gray, director of the TCMI reinforces the importance of integrated communication programs which direct people to CDC websites for health related information, as well as city and county level sites which provide up-to-date, clear messages on areas which are open and areas which are closed.

For more information about the study please contact Dr. Ignatius Cahyanto at 605-642-6876 or at Ignatius.Cahyanto@BHSU.edu
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