While studies of tourist risk perceptions and travel intentions have focused on terrorism, political instability, and outbreak diseases, limited studies have focused on natural disasters, despite the increased impact of disasters. Such events not only cause physical devastation to a tourist destination, but can affect future travel to the effected destination. Natural disasters can create risks for potential tourists which may influence their travel intentions. Thus understanding these risks and how they influence travel intentions is vital.
To date, while abundant research is attempting to understand the effect of disasters on risk perceptions, and its subsequent impact on travel intention, questions remain unanswered. Conceptually research should be conducted using a bottom up approach to understand risk perceptions and the factors which can influence risk perceptions. Researchers agree that risk is a multidimensional construct that is context specific, thus more research is needed in the context of natural disasters rather than relying on studies that have explored other types of risks that may not be relevant. In addition, the domestic tourist as a market has been ignored in past studies, which tend to focus on international tourists. In order to address these gaps, this thesis develops a holistic understanding of risk perceptions and the factors that affect the travel intentions of domestic tourists in a destination vulnerable to natural disasters.
Accordingly, there are three research objectives in this thesis. First, a bottom up approach is used to identify disaster specific risk dimensions. Second, to understand the relationships between the dimensions of travel risks, the factors that influence travel risk perception and travel intention. Third, to investigate how the dimensions of risk, and the factors that influence risk perception affect the travel intention of domestic tourists to destinations prone to natural disasters. Hence, a mixed method sequential method approach was applied. Initially 52 respondents completed a semi-structure interview. The results were then verified by 605 respondents in a mall intercept survey. The study area was West Sumatra, Indonesia which is one of the most disaster prone destinations in the world, yet it is also considered one of top ten domestic tourist destinations in Indonesia. The thematic analysis, exploratory factor analysis, and Partial least square - Structural equation modelling helped to untangle the complex interrelationships between the risk dimensions, travel intentions and influencing factors.
Firstly, this thesis uncovered seven dimensions of travel risk in the context of natural disasters. They consist of government preparedness, helplessness, tsunami, feeling trapped, earthquake anxiety, mitigation awareness and mythical beliefs. Many of these risks are consistent with risks found in other context; however two risks (mitigation awareness and mythical beliefs) were also identified. This finding suggests that risk perceptions are context specific and that a bottom up approach is needed to identify all the relevant risks.
Secondly, this thesis demonstrates that multiple factors influence risk perception. Typically studies only focus on one influencing factor. However, this thesis investigated three major factors (external information sources, internal information sources and personality) and found that a component of each (mass media, past visit, sensation seeking) influences risk perception in a natural disaster context. It was found that mass media and past visit increase risk perception, while sensation seeking reduces risk perception. Finding also shows that only two types of travel risk associated with tsunami risk and mythical beliefs determine tourist travel intention to visit a destination prone to natural disaster.
Thirdly, this thesis found that, both risks (tsunami risk and mythical beliefs) mediate the relationship between the factors that influence risk perception (mass media, past visit, sensation seeking) and travel intention. Findings suggest that sensationalist natural disaster news in the mass media may stimulate tourist concerns related to tsunamis and ghosts. This in turn negatively impacts tourists’ travel intention. Similarly, past visit experience increases due to tsunami risk and mythical beliefs, and it subsequently reduce travel intention. In contrast, sensation seekers were more likely to visit the destination as mythical beliefs and tsunami risks were an attraction, rather than a deterrent.