Tourism Crises and Disasters: Enhancing Understanding of System Effects

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  • This article was downloaded by: [University of Chicago Library]On: 08 December 2014, At: 08:29Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House,37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

    Journal of Travel & Tourism MarketingPublication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information:

    Tourism Crises and Disasters: Enhancing Understandingof System EffectsNoel Scott a & Eric Laws ba School of Tourism and Leisure Management, University of Queensland , Ipswich, Australiab Tourism Department , School of Business, James Cook University , USAPublished online: 10 Oct 2008.

    To cite this article: Noel Scott & Eric Laws (2005) Tourism Crises and Disasters: Enhancing Understanding of System Effects,Journal of Travel & Tourism Marketing, 19:2-3, 149-158, DOI: 10.1300/J073v19n02_12

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  • Tourism Crises and Disasters:Enhancing Understanding of System Effects

    Noel ScottEric Laws

    SUMMARY. This paper examines the definitions and conceptual foundations of crises and distin-guishes between crises and disasters. It takes a systems view of these concepts and uses the per-spective of systems as organizational networks to examine implications for tourism managers. Atourism destination is perceived as consisting of a network of interacting organizations. This per-spective questions the boundaries that should be used to study crisis and disasters. The paper alsodiscusses the possibility of a crisis having a positive outcome for a destination. [Article copiesavailable for a fee from The Haworth Document Delivery Service: 1-800-HAWORTH. E-mail address: Website: 2005 by The HaworthPress, Inc. All rights reserved.]

    KEYWORDS. Crisis, disaster, normality, crisis management, social network analysis


    Crises and disasters attract attention by theirunusual, unexpected or severe nature. News ofa plane crash or terrorist attack becomes front-page headlines in newspapers around the world,and may be discussed in company board roomsand by government agencies concerned to avoidor minimise similar occurrences. Typically, aresponse is developed to the particular crisis,and it passes. Viewing a crisis in this mannerleads to a focus in policy making literature onthe randomness of crises and disasters and theneed therefore to develop plans to better man-age these unpredictable events.

    It is argued here that this focus on the crisisphenomena is often to the exclusion of attentionto the effects on the system. By this we meanthat, following the ideas of systems theory (VonBertalanffy, 1950; Carlson, 1999; Scott & Laws,2004), tourism activity involves the interactionsof organizations, people and events in a variety ofsubsystems. By better defining and conceptualiz-ing these interactions, it may be possible to betterdeal with the apparent randomness of individualevents through an analysis of the comparable ef-fects of a range of crises. To better examine thisidea, there is a need to examine the systemic ef-fects of these events as well as the phenomenonof the crises and disasters themselves.

    Noel Scott is affiliated with the School of Tourism and Leisure Management, University of Queensland,Ipswich, Australia (E-mail: Eric Laws is Visiting Professor of Tourism in the School ofBusiness Tourism Department, James Cook University (E-mail:

    [Haworth co-indexing entry note]: Tourism Crises and Disasters: Enhancing Understanding of System Effects. Scott, Noel, and Eric Laws.Co-published simultaneously in Journal of Travel & Tourism Marketing (The Haworth Hospitality Press, an imprint of The Haworth Press, Inc.)Vol. 19, No. 2/3, 2005, pp. 149-158; and: Tourism Crises: Management Responses and Theoretical Insight (ed: Eric Laws, and Bruce Prideaux)The Haworth Hospitality Press, an imprint of The Haworth Press, Inc., 2005, pp. 149-158. Single or multiple copies of this article are available fora fee from The Haworth Document Delivery Service [1-800-HAWORTH, 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. (EST). E-mail address:].

    Available online at 2005 by The Haworth Press, Inc. All rights reserved.

    doi:10.1300/J073v19n02_12 149




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  • Crisis events such as SARS, September 11and the Gulf War are now global phenomena.The implications and effects of such crises gowell beyond the immediate impact of the cri-sis. This is a result of increasingly integratedglobal communications and the interdepen-dence of tourism companies, transport sys-tems, and is now an accepted part of peoplesperceptions of the world around them. As a re-sult, this paper explores an emergent perspec-tive on crises that may help analysts examineand understand these external interactionsand effects.

    This perspective of focusing on system ef-fects is considered useful as it highlights an-other range of effects or impacts of crises thathave not been sufficiently recognised withinthe tourism literature. These include the ideaof system resilience, of change in system statesand in improvements or degeneration in theoverall system of tourism as a result of a crisis.These ideas were identified and explored inthe work of the late Bill Faulkner, particularlyin a paper using floods in Katherine Gorge,Australia as a case study examining how a di-saster may lead to a positive change in a desti-nations tourism (Faulkner & Vikulov, 2001).

    The present paper examines the concept ofsystem effects and change in system states. Itprovides a characterization of the literature ofcrises and disasters in tourism and these setsthis literature within the theory of systems. Itthen examines a number of concepts and ideasthat are derived from this strategic and sys-temic perspective. Such a systems approach isdistinct from a number of the other disciplin-ary approaches that have been used, as will bediscussed below.


    One of the reasons so little progress hasbeen made in the advancing of our un-derstanding of tourism disasters is thelimited development of the theoretical andconceptual frameworks required to un-derpin the analysis of this phenomena.(Faulkner, 2001:136)

    The current literature on crises is character-ised by a number of disciplinary approaches(Pearson & Clair, 1998). These include thepsychological, socio-political and technologi-cal-structural perspectives. The first two ofthese perspectives focus on the individual orsocial elements of a crisis. In the tourism liter-ature examples are the management of crisesthrough communication (Henderson, 2003) orthe differences in perceptions of hotel manag-ers and guests (Drabek, 2000).

    The third, technological-structural, perspec-tive is based on the idea of socio-technical sys-tems. Here, technology and social systems (reg-ulations, procedures, norms) are seen to interactto create complexity that may increase (or de-crease) the probability of a crisis or disaster(Perrow, 1984). Characteristics of the system asa whole such as tight coupling of subsystemsand interactive complexity are considered to in-crease the probability of a crisis. Examples in-clude the interaction of two failures in a complexsituation such as in the Challenger Space Shuttledisaster. Here a technical failure was compoundedby the social norms and values within the man-agement.

    In these approaches, the crisis itself is seenas the unit of analysis. The focus is on theevents leading up the crisis which then resultsin a perturbation of the normal state, followedby a restoration of the normal situation. Forexample, Pearson and Clair (1998:6), in theirreview of different perspectives on the studyof crises and development of propositions forfurther study, discuss the outcome of a crisisas a system being restored to its normal stateIn particular the socio-technical perspectiveon crises views the crisis as distinct from theremainder of the environment.

    An alternative analys