‘Rational mind takes a back seat’ when considering holiday safety

Three-quarters of travellers are more open to new experiences on holiday and to trying things they would not try at home, according to new research about tourism safety.

The study also found risk levels and the safety of the destination are ranked behind other criteria such as cost, destination type and weather, when holidaymakers are choosing where to go.

The findings are from the Safer Tourism Foundation’s inaugural Travel Behaviours Risk Index, based on a survey of 2,000 UK travellers.

The results reflect how “optimism biases and social influences” contribute to a phenomenon that Safer Tourism calls ‘The Holiday Head’ – the propensity to behave on holiday in ways you wouldn’t at home.

When asked directly if safety and risk are important criteria for destination selection, respondents “overwhelmingly” told researchers that they are, said the foundation.

“But once enjoyment factors are factored in – such as weather, food and accommodation standards – the rational mind takes a back seat,” it added.

More: Safer Tourism Foundation names Paul Carter as chair

Safer Tourism warns travellers of ‘holiday head’ dangers

Katherine Atkinson, Safer Tourism Foundation chief executive, said: “Ask almost anyone over the age of 30 and they will tell you that in their heads they feel younger than their years.

“It’s completely normal to want to do the things we used to do when we were younger, or fitter, especially when we’re on holiday.

“The same applies after an injury or an illness – we may struggle to do all the things we used to do, or to do them at the same level.

“That can be very hard to accept, and so our ‘holiday head’ can convince us to carry on as if nothing had changed, leading us to attempt things we know, in the cold light of day, aren’t quite right for us.

“Add to that the optimism bias that abounds when we’re on holiday, and we can find ourselves – quite literally – out of our depth.

“Travellers are not solely to blame however – one in seven travellers believe there was a mismatch between the type of activity or holiday recommended by their travel provider, while another one in 10 said that ‘no alternative activities were offered’.”

Nearly one in 10 travellers have experienced some kind of serious incident while on holiday, and the same proportion again report incidents happening to their travel companions.

Serious sickness, injuries and allergic reactions are the most common types of incidents.

Other incident types occurring because of a mismatch between a traveller’s fitness level or physical capability and the type of holiday they are on or activity they are doing – such as those in open water, or while cycling or hiking.

Atkinson said: “The Holiday Head is not intrinsically bad. It has a wonderful side, helping us to get the most out of the experience of travel, encouraging us to try new things and enriching our lives as a result.

“But the Holiday Head that encourages us to live in the moment and to go with that optimism bias (it won’t happen to me) can also mean we don’t stop and think, and so find ourselves doing risky, reckless or dangerous things we simply wouldn’t contemplate at home.

“It’s worth being aware of our own Holiday Head and how it can affect our decisions.

“That doesn’t mean becoming a health and safety bore on holiday, but it could mean being curious about a provider’s safety measures before embarking on an activity, or just occasionally asking ourselves, when thinking about our own risk behaviours, ‘Would I do this at home?’”

Picture: Dudarev Mikhail/shutterstock.com

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