July 13, 2024

Insight: Managing Covid risk perceptions

Published 9/12/20

The gap between the perceived and actual risk of travel since the Covid-19 pandemic arrived has been widening significantly despite the vast quantity of information increasingly available. Suzanne Sangiovese, Commercial and Communications Director for Riskline, shares her advice on how to manage perceptions and improve travel confidence.

When I read the headline that ‘catching coronavirus on a flight is less likely than being struck by lightning, according to a recent statement by IATA’, I wasn’t surprised, as I spend much of my working days reading travel information and objectively assessing the implied risks. However, not everyone is accessing the same reliable data and information. In the same week, a survey by OAG revealed that nearly half of travellers feared catching coronavirus on board a plane.

Mind the gap

This all reminded me how important the perception of risk is in our lives and made me realise that the gap between the perceived and actual risk of travel since the Covid-19 pandemic arrived has been widening significantly despite the vast quantity of information increasingly available.

Information overload, conflicting information and misinformation about Covid-19 are rife and are important contributory factors in the increase in this gap. They have created uncertainty which, coupled with emotional responses and actual risks including the inconvenience of being put into quarantine and the availability of Zoom meetings as an alternative option, is an important factor in the current reluctance to travel even when we can.

The impact of uncertainty is reinforced by polls, which show that the more safeguards are in place the more likely travellers are to be confident to resume travel. Confidence is the watchword here. Several industry experts have told me that travellers with organisations that offer more structure and solutions – such as online booking tools, travel management companies and mandated travel policies – tend to have more positive feelings about starting to travel again. At Riskline we have also seen a pattern of increasing demand for information services as companies start to think about allowing their staff to travel.

It’s valuable to consider risk perceptions closely. They are subjective judgements we make about the severity of a risk or potential harm/loss. In a vacuum of information or, when faced with too much information, misinformation or unclear communication will lead people to assumptions rather than facts.

Perceived risk leads to behavioural changes to accommodate a fear – in the case of travel, incorrect perceptions that air circulating on planes is unfiltered and a breeding ground for the Covid-19 virus leads to fewer people travelling by air.

From this we could be led to think that risk perception is something to be stopped. However, risk perception is still important as it helps to determine which hazards people care about and how to handle them. If you know what people perceive is a threat, you then have a focus of what to manage or control.

Managing perceptions

So how can perceptions be managed? Education is the key. We need to leverage quantitative data but also ensure that it’s data of quality. This means using reliable information from official and trustworthy sources. Identify trusted sources of information who, in turn, will help to guide us through the minefield of misinformation. The World Health Organisation (WHO), which is leading the UN’s response to the pandemic, has added a “mythbusters” section to its online coronavirus advice pages. It refutes a staggering array of myths, including claims that drinking potent alcoholic drinks, exposure to high temperatures, or conversely, cold weather, can kill the virus.

We also all need to apply a degree of scepticism and become more critical of what is being presented to us online and elsewhere. If we have access to and review multiple sources, and are conscious of their limitations and bias, then we’re less likely to believe – and spread – falsehoods.

At the same time, it is also important to remain clear and consistent in your communication within your organisation and ensure transparency. Being unclear in the information you communicate can lead to confusion and then further scepticism and subjective judgements. Controlling the message you are communicating is essential.

Cutting through the vast amount of misinformation, providing consistent, trustworthy data such as the IATA survey and communicating it to corporate travel managers and travellers are essential if we are to close the gap between perceived and actual risk and give travellers confidence.