Perspectives on Destination Crisis Management in the UK and Mexico: Conventional Crisis Models and Complexity Theory

Speakman, Mark Kevin (2014) Perspectives on Destination Crisis Management in the UK and Mexico: Conventional Crisis Models and Complexity Theory. Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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Tourism destinations are particularly vulnerable to crises and disasters and while a number of tourism specific crisis management models exist to assist managers and to provide a reference point for academics, they unfortunately display a number of limitations which reduce their effectiveness. For example, drawing on organisational crisis management theory as a framework, they fail to account for differences in size and scope between a typical business organisation and a tourism destination. At the same time, the prescriptive, linear, one-size-fits-all structure of the models does not consider the unpredictable, unique nature of crises and disasters, the manner in which they evolve and the distinct characteristics of individual tourism destinations. Furthermore, they presume coordination will automatically occur when, in reality, competition and rivalry often act as a barrier to the implementation of measures to achieve such aims.
Beyond these specific limitations, perhaps the most pertinent challenge to contemporary models is that they fail to recognise the chaotic nature of the system and its environment. Various commentators have suggested a chaos and complexity theory approach to tourism crisis management. In this way, the tourism system is viewed as a complex adaptive system, similar to an ecological community, which, despite its chaotic exterior, demonstrates an underlying current of orderliness and a particular aptitude for self-organisation. The ability of a system, under the correct conditions, to self-organise and evolve to an improved state of being has implications for the management of crises and disasters. Nevertheless, despite prompts from academia to investigate further, research has been extremely sparse and the potential of chaos and complexity theory as a method to manage tourism crises has remained relatively unknown.
This thesis, therefore, seeks to address the gap in the literature. Its overall purpose is to identify whether the proposed limitations of existing frameworks are demonstrated in practice and to consider whether a complexity-based perspective on tourism crisis and disaster management represents a more viable framework for managers of tourism destinations preparing for and responding to crises. To address this purpose, two case studies were conducted in the context of two tourism crises, namely the 2001 UK Foot and mouth crisis and the 2009 Mexican H1N1 Influenza crisis. Following an interpretivist theoretical approach to the research, a series of semi-structured interviews were performed with relevant participants associated with each crisis and the information gathered was analysed along with media and government documentary evidence pertaining to each crisis.
The research serves to substantiate the claim that the proposed limitations diminish the effectiveness of contemporary tourism crisis and disaster models, as the limitations are clearly evident in both case studies. Moreover, the case studies also offer the opportunity to observe manifestations of the elements of chaos and complexity, which enables the conclusion to be drawn that had the Foot and Mouth crisis and the H1N1 Influenza crisis been managed using complexity theory based management strategies, facilitated by the implementation of a ‘learning destination’ type structure, then the crisis response would have been improved.

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