Authors: Bonnie Tiell1 and Elizabeth Athaide-Victor2

1 United States Sports Academy and Tiffin University School of Business

2 Tiffin University School of Criminal Justice and Social Sciences

Bonnie Tiell, Ed.D.
2696 South Township Rd 1195
Tiffin, OH 44883

Bonnie Tiell, Ed.D., is a Professor of Sport Management at Tiffin University in Ohio and the U.S. Sports Academy. She has coordinated an academic experience with Olympians at every summer Games since Athens 2004.

Elizabeth Athaide-Victor, PhD., is a Professor of Forensic Psychology and Psychology. Her research interest includes jury behavior, jury cognitive processing, child sexual abuse litigation, toxic tort litigation, juror competence, and juror bias.

The impact of risk factors on Olympic travel intentions


This study explores perceptions of risk-related factors that may discourage travel to the summer Olympics. Specifically, the research analyzes the degree to which risks related to environmental concerns, instability, and personal limitations impacted travel intentions to the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and the 2020 Games in Tokyo, Japan which were held without spectators due to a global pandemic.

Purpose: The purpose of the study was to analyze the degree to which risk-related factors significantly impacted Olympic tourism intentions.

Methods: Almost identical surveys were administered in the United States (U.S.) and the People’s Republic of China approximately two months before the opening ceremony for the 2016 Rio Olympics and again before the originally scheduled 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The only change to the updated 2020 instrument was replacing the Zika virus with Covid-19 as one of the variables measured. Analysis of Variances (ANOVAs) and Dunnett’s Planned Comparison were used for the statistical analysis. 

Results: The study herein represented an analysis of 882 responses including 728 usable surveys from 2016 and 154 from 2020. Risks that related to instability and environmental health that were uncertain in nature were perceived to be greater deterrents to Olympic tourism than known risks related to personal limitations. When conducting paired comparisons of risk factors that would deter travel to the summer Olympics, 17 significant differences were found between the mean scores.

Conclusions: Perceptions of travel risks that are uncertain or unable to be controlled are typically a greater deterrent to Olympic tourism than risks that are certain and seemingly able to be controlled.        

Application in Sport: Understanding the types and degree to which risk factors influence travel intentions to the summer Olympics or a mega-event can assist organizers in framing communications with potential visitors and local businesses.

Key Words: tourism, Zika, COVID-19, Environmental risks, instability, terrorism, mega-event, nationality, sport travel, personal limitations related to travel, travel health


The 2024 Paris Olympics expects a surge in tourism after spectators were barred from the 2020 Tokyo Games. Every Olympic Host City has a relatively distinct environmental footprint in respect to its geography, culture, and government. Decisions to visit a country during the Olympics are impacted by an appraisal of these factors in addition to many others such as the current state of global affairs, personal limitations (e.g., finances), or perceptions of safety, security, and health risks.

Since Baron de Coubertin’s 1896 revival of the modern Olympics in Athens, Greece, the Games have been associated with numerous crises that are more likely to deter tourism to mega events. Two world wars canceled the Olympics in 1916, 1940, and 1944. Hostages were killed at the 1972 Munich Games. Massive political boycotts occurred during the 1976 Montreal, 1980 Moscow, and 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. A bomb in Atlanta’s Centennial Park killed a spectator at the 1996 Games. Fear of terrorism attacks loomed at the 2004 Athens Games, the first summer Olympics held after the 9/11 tragedy in the United States (U.S.). The father-in-law of an American volleyball coach was stabbed to death at the 2008 Beijing Games. The threat of contracting a potentially deadly Zika virus led qualifiers and others to drop out of the 2016 Rio Olympics and the 2020 Tokyo Games were void of any spectators due to the Covid-19 global pandemic (12, 21, 52, 56).

When the opening ceremony for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics commenced on July 23, 2021, Japan faced its fourth state of emergency due to the Covid-19 pandemic which resulted in a ban on all tourism in the country (12, 21, 42). The President of the Organizing Committee for the 2024 Olympics in Paris, France expressed that the lingering effects of Covid-19 and Russia’s assault on Ukraine among the “newest” health, economic, and geopolitical risks impacting the forthcoming Summer Games (8). 

Mega-events associated with international tourism, including the Olympics, are especially vulnerable to risks related to terrorism and political instability (3, 10, 49), as well as a multitude of other factors. This study aimed to investigate the degree to which risk-related factors significantly impacted Olympic tourism intentions in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and Tokyo, Japan. The categories of risk factors were associated with three classifications: (1) environmental, (2) instability, and (3) personal limitations.

Risk Factors Impacting Tourism Intentions

Numerous models have been purported to address a convergence of factors that impact international tourism intentions (6, 19, 26, 28, 50). Among the factors that affect tourism decisions are destination image, demographics, lifestyles, event characteristics, attractions, and travel-related risks such as safety and security. Perceptions of travel-related risks have the potential to override other factors that impact travel intentions since tourists have a stronger influence to avoid a destination deemed unsafe (50). Additionally, although destination image and travel intentions are negatively influenced by perceptions of risks, there is typically a convergence of mediating factors impacting decisions such as media sources, government initiatives, individual personality, and lifestyle (15, 26, 28, 29, 46, 58). Thus, the risks that potentially influence destination choice vary widely (33).

Examples of travel-related risks include natural disasters, crime, terrorism, overcrowding, unfavorable economic conditions, unsanitary environmental issues, infectious diseases, physical risks, health risks, equipment risks, social risks, political/social instability, and language barriers. Researchers have developed various classification systems among the numerous travel-related risks impacting tourism intentions. The classification system used for the research herein includes 1) environmental 2) instability and 3) personal limitations.

Environmental Risks

Categories of environmental risks for a destination have been described as as physical (e.g., extreme climate temperatures, sun exposure), geographical (e.g., earthquakes, volcanos), biological (e.g., poisonous or large animals, ectoparasites, poisonous plants), and chemical (e.g., air pollution, water pollution) (7). Travelers responding to research on the topic most often cited complaints related to environmental risks and that tourism organizers are prone to minimizing or downplaying hazards to avoid negative publicity that may deter travel intentions.

Notable research has noted that health risks are “an integral part of the nature of travel” and that a traveler’s perceptions of these types of risks rank relatively high in comparison to other categories of hazards such as terrorism and natural disasters (27). Travelers rated environmental health concerns of a destination (e.g., water quality, health care quality, food safety, and disease safety) second behind crime among the top five perceived leading risk categories impacting tourism intentions (27). The authors contend that the lack of control tourists have when on-site in an international destination, especially in developing countries, likely contributes to the high ranking of health concerns as a primary risk factor.

Infectious diseases have also been a focus of an abundance of research on environmental health-related risks potentially impacting travel decisions. Conversely, other researchers reported that the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003 deterred thousands of individuals from traveling to parts of Asia (46). Reisinger and Mavondo (46) also reported the fear of becoming sick while visiting a destination was a significant factor discouraging travel intentions which concurred with Law (32)who noted that infectious disease was one of three categories perceived as a threat to global tourism. Similarly, researchers reported the fear of potentially contracting the Zika virus negatively impacted travel intentions, especially during a peak period in 2016 which coincided with the summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (43). Studies have also indicated that international travel is negatively impacted by the fear of potentially contracting COVID-19 and government-imposed restrictions in efforts to control the outbreak (5, 17, 22, 35, 41). According to Hastahklar et al. (2021) and Pappas (2021), during the global pandemic of 2020-2021, potential travelers preferred to vacation domestically rather than internationally or preferred to travel to destinations that were not overcrowded.

Instability Risks

Risks associated with instability are predicated upon circumstances that are unpredictable or erratic. Sports events are symbolic targets for political opportunism and acts of terrorism (3, 8, 24, 51, 54). Among the greatest concerns at the Olympics related to instability are security risks evidenced by the strict protocols for hosting the Games and exorbitant expense to ensure the safety of athletes, coaches, trainers, organizers, and spectators. Security risks include, but are not limited to civil disobedience, crime, technological risks, data breaches, traffic, natural or other disasters, terrorism, and airspace control (47). In addition to ticket scams and potentially having malware installed on mobile devices if confiscated at customs checkpoints, spectators are especially vulnerable to cyber-attacks due to an over-reliance on public Wi-Fi to avoid data overage fees (16).

Neirotti & Warner (39) noted that over 28% of the sample of spectators surveyed at the 2004 Athens Olympics knew of someone who avoided attending the Games due to concerns over safety. The cost for security operations for the 2004 Athens Olympics, the first summer Games following 9/11, was 1.2 billion (55). In comparison, security costs at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics were estimated between $101 to $200 million (31). Americans provided approximately 75% of foreign assistance to the 2004 Athens Olympics through an interagency foreign emergency support team deployed in Greece at a cost of approximately $35 million to the U.S. government (55). Seven countries including the host nation of Greece participated in military exercises to prepare for potential chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear contamination resulting from an intentional act (e.g., war), an accident, or a natural cause. Following the Games, subcommittees were formed to focus on logistics, transportation security, intelligence support, and other areas that posed potential threats to visiting spectators and participants.

The 2008 Beijing Games featured heavily militarized zones with over 300,000 surveillance cameras, and an anti-terrorist unit of 100,000 armed troops (31). The cost of security skyrocketed to 6.5 billion (24). Reportedly, the 2008 Olympics included 11 to 12 million cyber alerts per day, although none resulted in any successful attacks (16). At the 2012 London Olympics, terrorism was ranked ahead of local criminals, public disorder, and national extremism as potential security threats (51). Costs for security operations were estimated between $1.2 and $3.1 billion (24, 45). Technology surveillance systems were positioned throughout the city and in toll, 89,000 police officers were on duty each day in addition to maritime and air defense forces (31). The U.S. also contributed to security with 500 Federal Bureau of Investigation officers on-site (24).

A discrepancy exists between studies exploring the perception of safety and security risks at destinations hosting a mega-event (e.g., the Olympics) and destinations that were not associated with a mega-event. When the Olympics or a mega-event were not the focus of research, travel intentions were generally negatively impacted by perceptions of safety and security risks (6, 10, 25, 30, 57). Conversely, when tourism behavior was assessed in the context of the Olympics, a majority of studies found minimal degrees of concern with the perceived safety and security of the host city (9, 18, 19, 37, 38, 39, 48, 53). A rationale for the discrepancies is that the allure of a mega-event such as the Olympics appears to supersede the perception of associated risks with a destination or that because an event is such a high profile, spectators automatically assume higher levels of safety and security. These rationales are supported by several studies. For example, in consideration of travel to the 2004 Olympics in Athens, only 4% of the sample cited security as the most important factor in their decision of whether or not to travel (39) while 21% of the respondents in a similar study considered staying at home due to safety concerns (53). With respect to the 2012 Olympics, a significant majority of 4000 Americans surveyed regarded London as a safe host destination city (48). Safety and security risks were not perceived as significant predictors of travel intentions to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for the 2016 Olympics when compared to other variables such as the image of the destination and interest in sport (38).

A few studies in the context of the Olympics did support the majority of tourism research detailing the negative impact of safety and security risks on international travel intentions. Qi et al., (44), as well as Choi et al., (11), found that potential violence, terrorism, and socio-psychological risk were significantly predictive of negative intentions to attend the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, respectively. The political instability of the host destination in South Korea, however, did not negatively impact travel intentions to the 2018 winter Games (11).

Another risk-related factor under the umbrella of instability is uncertainty (a.k.a., fear of the unknown), typically influenced by personal characteristics such as anxiety and tolerance (23, 46, 50, 57). The uncertainty avoidance dimension of Hofstede’s (23) research on cultural distinctions proposes a distinct relationship between risk perception and anxiety. Furthermore, both Sonmez and Graefe (55) and Reisinger and Mavondo (46) indicated a correlation between anxiety and perceptions of safety, specifically noting that higher levels of uncertainty about potential risks associated with a destination were stronger predictors of decisions to avoid international travel than to visit a location. Finally, Williams et al., (57) advanced a theoretical construct of uncertainty as a form of “tacit knowledge” about known and unknown conditions which stems from the individual before extending to intermediaries, groups, and society as a whole.

Personal Limitations

Studies that assess the effect of personal limitations on travel intentions primarily focus on the perceived risks of travel and socio-demographic variables. Personal limitations are broad and may include a physical disability, sustaining an illness or injury, lacking financial resources, difficulties in obtaining a passport or visa, or any of a number of personal issues. MacSween and Canzianie (36) classified personal limitations into three categories: 1) health, 2) finances, and 3) personal stress. The authors found that personal stressors such as family obligations, family tension, and balancing the work-life interface were more concerning to potential travelers than health-related or financial limitations (36).

Martin & Woodside (37) referenced personal limitations within the domain of pre-framing and pre-planning trip issues when proposing a model for international tourism behavior. In-depth interviews with foreigners considering visiting Hawaii revealed that having to care for children, job status, and personal income were among the factors that influenced destination choices (37). Reisinger and Mavondo (46) also alluded to the impact of health and financial risks on tourism behavior in proposing a model to explain the relationship between travel risks, travel anxiety, and travel intentions. Primarily, risk factors related to health and finance were categorized among socio-demographic variables that shaped decision-making.

Very few studies in tourism behavior research assess the impact of personal health limitations such as a physical disability, chronic disease, or illness. Most research pertaining to tourism behavior referenced personal health in the context of perceptions of health-related risks such as the potential of contracting an infectious disease or food poisoning as a factor impacting travel intentions or destination choice. One of few studies assessing chronic disease and travel intentions noted that women suffering from fibromyalgia restricted their travel behavior (2). Khan et al., (29) also addressed personal health as a travel constraint for individuals considering medical tourism noting that existing ailments may limit certain patients from traveling altogether. Among the travel constraints identified by the author were chronic diseases, disabilities, short-term illness, visa-processing issues, language barriers, transportation limitations, and a lack of appropriate knowledge (29).

 The impact of financial limitations on travel intentions has been similarly assessed only minimally in tourism research, typically in the context of a small portion (single factor) of a larger study or linked to socio-demographic information of participants. Khan et al., (29) rationalized the significance of cost factors in developing a theoretical model of medical tourism decision-making. Cost-saving was considered a motivating factor impacting travel intentions which interacted with perceived risks (including health risks) and travel constraints. Similarly, in research on travel intentions during and after the global pandemic caused by COVID-19, Jiang et al., (26) proposed that cost risks were one of six categories of risks that interacted to impact travel decisions. Cost risks included actual costs exceeding expectations, time-related costs due to quarantine measures, and the cost of not being able to experience attractions or events that are off-limits (26). The authors contend that measures to minimize cost-related risks include risk aversion strategies (by the media) and government initiatives to restore a destination’s image and attract tourists.

Research Question

The literature and logic on risk factors impacting international travel intentions to the summer Olympics warrant the following research question: Are there significant differences among risk-related factors that discourage travel intentions to the summer Olympics?


To assess the research question, the following methods were used.


The population of interest for this study included adults who were knowledgeable about the Olympic Games. Participants represented a convenience sample of primarily faculty, staff, and students who were associated with higher education institutions in China and the United States during the summer of 2016 or 2020 as well as employees of China’s Central Television station (CCTV), the largest state-owned broadcast company headquartered in Beijing.

Chain-referral or snowball sampling was used to recruit participants via personal connections, e-mail, and social media. Chain-referral or snowball sampling involves participants recruiting additional participants by using their personal or professional contacts to grow the sample population (4). Twelve students and three professors from nine institutions who traveled to Rio de Janeiro with the primary researcher for the 2016 Olympics served as investigators in recruiting participants for both survey periods. Participants were recruited through personal appeal, email, and social media. Language translation, as well as recruitment and administration of the survey to participants in China, were the responsibilities of two connections to the primary researcher including a former Chinese student who participated in the 2016 trip to Brazil and a colleague who participated in a series of educational zoom meetings during the pandemic.


The questionnaire used for the 2020 research was replicated from the 2016 survey and modified slightly to fit the context of the current Olympics (e.g., changing Rio to Tokyo). The original questionnaire was developed to collect the necessary data to commence research on the perceptions of the factors that would discourage travel to the summer Olympics through Survey Monkey, a free and customizable cloud-based software program. A draft was shared with scholars and two executives from Olympic governing bodies who were knowledgeable of survey research to assure content validation and ease of navigation. Once comments from experts were deciphered and the survey was considered ready to share with participants, back translation was used to convert the original English version to Chinese, and then back to English to compare and check for discrepancies. The conversion through back translation is reported to be the most frequently used method of ensuring linguistic equivalence of test instruments in international surveys (40).

Since SurveyMonkey was not available in China, the English version of the instrument was replicated in Chinese through, a free and customizable cloud-based software program popular in Asia. The contents of the survey administered in China were identical to the English source version to ensure reliability and comparable results, however, two questions were added by the investigator responsible for data collection in China upon the request of a former professor in Beijing. These questions asked participants to identify particular sports of interest and to select a ‘reason’ they may have an interest in the Olympics. Since the questions were not included in the U.S. version, they were not included in the analysis, nor were they included in the replication of the study in 2020.

For the replication of the study in 2020, identical surveys in English and Chinese were used with slight modifications. As indicated, the updated survey excluded the additional two questions asked of the 2016 sample in China. The updated survey also replaced all verbiage referencing the 2016 Rio Olympics with the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Finally, the 2020 survey replaced Zika Virus with Covid-19 as the risk-related variable associated with contracting an infectious disease.  

The instrument was adapted from similar surveys exploring tourism intentions and destination image. The survey design included four sections. The first section explained the purpose of the research and asked subjects to acknowledge their voluntary and informed consent to participate. The second section included two multiple-choice questions asking participants (1) whether they planned to travel to Brazil for the Olympics that year and (2) whether there was a preference to experience the Olympics in person, via a televised broadcast, or if they had no interest. The third section included a chart in which participants were instructed to use a five-point Likert scale (1=strongly disagree to 5=strongly agree) to rate the degree they perceived each variable would discourage them from traveling to the respective Olympics. An optional open-ended prompt for “additional comments” followed the rating chart. The last section asked participants to self-identify their age, gender, and nationality based on country of origin which is consistent with most research appearing in refereed journal articles assessing culture and tourism (Li, 2014). 

Since researchers have widely concurred that an integrated approach is best when assessing human behavior, the survey instrument included eight variables to explore risk-related factors discouraging decisions to travel to the summer Olympics.  The variables under the control of the researchers apply to three broad categories of risks. The first category, environmental risks, included (1) contaminated water, and (2) infectious disease (2016 survey) or Covid-19 (2020 survey) virus. The second risk category, instability, included (1) terrorism, riots, and/or demonstrations (2) street crime, and (3) fear of the unknown. The third category, risks due to personal limitations, included (1) ease of obtaining a passport/visa, (2) personal health, and (3) availability of time/finances.


Before administering the surveys in 2016 and 2020, the primary researcher obtained Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval. Requests to complete electronic surveys assessing perceptions of factors discouraging decisions to travel to the summer Olympics were administered simultaneously to adults in China and the United States approximately eight weeks preceding the originally scheduled Opening Ceremony of the 2016 and 2020 Games. was used for a virtual meeting in 2016 to train the investigators representing the 12 students and academic professors from nine universities (see Appendix A). The training included an explanation of the research objectives­, the importance of obtaining informed consent, and the protocol to conduct survey dissemination. Face-to-face meetings, email, and Skype video conferencing were used with the investigator responsible for administering the survey in the People’s Republic of China in 2016, and Zoom was used in 2020.  The objectives of the meetings were to clarify procedures for written linguistic translation and to ensure raw data from surveys administered in China would be translated to English in the identical format as the data obtained from surveys administered in the United States.

Investigators in the United States administered the English version of the electronic questionnaire created in Survey Monkey to selected faculty, staff, and students at their respective universities using e-mail. Investigators were encouraged to use personal social media platforms on Twitter and Facebook to solicit additional adult participants. The investigators in China administered the Chinese version of the electronic questionnaire created in So Jump to employees at Central China Television (CCTV) and students, faculty, and staff at a university in Beijing, China.

A condition or “rule” restricted successful submission of the survey if participants failed to confirm they had reviewed and agreed with section I, which explained the purpose of the research and included a statement indicating informed consent to voluntarily participate. Therefore, all survey results are representative of individuals who agreed to participate and were willing to have their answers published in aggregate form. To maintain anonymity, participant names were not collected.

After collecting results, a data code sheet was manually created by the primary researcher to convert responses from text data to numeric for all sections except additional comments. Next, the results from the 2016 participant surveys in China were translated to English and imported into an excel spreadsheet that was formatted to identically match the design of the data report for the surveys administered simultaneously in the United States. The data from the two spreadsheets in 2016 representing results of surveys administered in the U.S. and China were merged into one master excel file. The primary researcher manually converted all text data to numeric using the data code sheet as a guide.

The process of translating Chinese results to English, merging two spreadsheets into one, and manually converting text data to numeric was replicated for the 2020 survey results. The primary researcher added a column to the 2020 master excel spreadsheet to denote the year of the survey (2016 or 2020). The original master excel spreadsheet from the 2016 combined data sets was merged with the 2020 file to create a new master. The primary research manually reviewed the new master to ensure the 2016 and 2020 cohorts were coded accurately and that all data aligned correctly on the spreadsheet.

Survey responses without informed consent or which included four or more incomplete data points were removed from the master spreadsheet. Data was exported to Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS) and a new analytics tool titled “SuperStat” which were used for statistical analysis. ANOVAs and Dunnett’s planned comparisons were performed to compare the means of each of the eight risk-related factors to every other risk-related factor until all combinations and permutations were completed.

The researchers compressed the factors into eight distinct categories to analyze a general and overall picture of factor effects on the decision.  The compressed categories included infectious disease; fear of the unknown; passport or visa issues; personal health issues; contaminated water; terrorism/riots; street crime; and time or money issues.


A total of882 useable survey responses were returned by participants in 2016 and 2020 (see Table 1). Within the final sample, 554 (63%) represented the United States, 284 (32%) represented China, 41 (5%) represented other countries, and 3 (less than 1%) did not share their nationality. Gender was represented by 364 (41%) males and 515 females (58%) and 3(less than 1%) did not provide a response. Among age groups, 168 (19%) were between the ages of 18-25, 250 (28%) were age 26-35, 223 (25%) were between 36-45, and 241 (27%) were age 46 or older.

The researchers compressed variables into eight distinct categories to analyze the general and overall picture of risk-related factors impacting travel intentions to the summer Olympics(see Table 2).Terrorism (M = 3.77) and contaminated water (M = 3.70) scored the highest among the eight items while personal health (M = 2.28) and visa or passport issues (M – 1.99) ranked among the lowest fears.

When conducting paired comparisons of the mean scores for risk related factors discouraging travel intentions to the summer games, 17 statistically significant findings emerged (see Table 3). In aggregate, terrorism rated as the most significant factor when paired with each of the other items (t=8.26; p=.000***).

Following is an overview of each of the 17 paired comparisons of risk related factors that were found to be statistically significant (p<.05).

Finding 1: Fear of contracting an infectious disease (e.g. Zika or Covid-19) to fear of the unknown (F=2.74, p.=.005**): Subjects were significantly more fearful of contracting an infectious disease such as the Zika virus or Covid-19 than they feared the unknown, x=3.5 and 2.28.

Finding 2: Fear of contracting an infectious disease (e.g., Zika or Covid-19) to fear of visa or passport issues (F=5.70, p.=.000***): Subjects were significantly more fearful of contracting an infectious disease such as the Zika virus or Covid-19 than they were of visa or passport issues, x=3.50 and 1.99.

Finding 3: Fear of contracting an infectious disease (e.g. Zika or Covid-19) to personal health issues (F=4.85, p.=.000***): Subjects were significantly more fearful of contracting an infectious disease such as the Zika virus or Covid-19 than they were of personal health issues, x=3.50 and 2.28.

Finding 4: Fear of contaminated water to fear of the unknown (F=3.31, p.=.000***): Subjects were significantly more fearful of unsanitary water than they feared the unknown, x=3.70 and 2.77.

Finding 5: Fear of contaminated water to visa or passport issues (F=6.10, p.=.000***): Subjects were significantly more fearful of unsanitary water than they were of visa or passport issues, x=3.70 and 1.99.

Finding 6: Fear of contaminated water to personal health concerns (F=5.31, p.=.000***): Subjects were significantly more fearful of unsanitary water than they were of their personal health issues, x=3.70 and 2.28.

Finding 7: Fear of riots or terrorism to fear of the unknown (F=3.35, p.=.000***): Subjects were significantly more fearful of riots or terrorism than they feared the unknown, x=3.77 and 2.77.

Finding 8: Fear of riots or terrorism to visa and passport issues (F=5.97, p.=.000***): Subjects were significantly more fearful of riots or terrorism than they feared visa or passport issues, x=3.77 and 1.99.

Finding 9: Fear of riots or terrorism to personal health issues (F=5.20, p.=.000***): Subjects were significantly more fearful of riots or terrorism than their personal health issues, x=3.77 and 2.28.

Finding 10: Fear of street crime to fear of the unknown (F=2.48, p.=.009**): Subjects were significantly more fearful of street crime than they feared the Unknown, x=3.43 and 2.77.

Finding 11: Fear of street crime to visa or passport issues (F=5.43, p.=.000***): Subjects were significantly more fearful of street crime than they were of visa or passport issues, x=3.43 and 1.99.

Finding 12: Fear of street crime to personal health issues (F=4.57, p.=.000***): Subjects were significantly more fearful of street crime than they were of their personal health issues, x=3.43 and 2.28.

Finding 13: Fear of the unknown to visa or passport issues (F=2.87, p.=.003**): Subjects were significantly more fearful of the unknown than they were of visa or passport issues, x=2.77 and 1.99.

Finding 14: Fear of the unknown to cost/time issues (F=2.21, p.=.01*). Subjects were significantly more fearful of the unknown than they were of Personal time or financial concerns, x=2.77 and 3.36.

Finding 15: Fear of the unknown to personal health issues (F=1.91, p.=.03*): Individuals were significantly more fearful of the unknown than they were of their personal health issues, x=2.77 and 2.28.

Finding 16: Personal time or financial concerns to visa or passport issues (F=5.17, p.=.000***): Subjects were significantly more fearful of cost and time concerns than they were of visa or passport issues, x=1.99 and 3.36.

Finding 17: Personal time or financial concerns to personal health issues (F=4.29, p.=.000***): Subjects were significantly more fearful of cost or time issues than they were of personal health issues, x=3.36 and 2.28.

No statistically significant differences were found among all other paired comparisons.


Results of the research herein indicated fear of riots or terrorism (x=3.77) and fear of contaminated water (x=3.70 ranked among the top two risk factors that would potentially deter travel decisions to the summer Olympics followed by fear of contracting an infectious disease such as the zika virus or Covid-19 (x=3.50) and fear of street crime (x=3.43). An individual is not able to control the outbreak of these risks due to the uncertainty of their occurrence when visiting a destination. There were no significant differences found in the paired comparisons between the top four risk factors. In other words, individuals perceived the top four risk factors to be relatively the same in terms of the degree to which they would discourage travel to the summer Olympics, but significantly greater when compared directly to one of the lower-tier risk factors.

Conversely, the categories that ranked the lowest among risk factors that discouraged travel to the summer Olympics are seemingly certain in nature and able to be controlled by the traveler. These factors included concerns about the cost or time available to travel (x=3.36), fear of the unknown (x=2.77), concerns about personal health issues (x=2.28), and concerns about passport or visa issues (x=1.99). Significant differences were often apparent when compared directly with one of the top four factors as well as when compared to each other. In other words, individuals perceived the bottom four risk factors to be relatively different in terms of the degree to which they would discourage travel to the summer Olympics,

Jonas et al., (27) asserted that the less uncertainty and control an individual has over a travel-related risk, the higher the risk is rated with respect to discouraging travel intentions to international destinations. The axiom is consistent in the findings of the current research whereby risks considered seemingly uncertain or uncontrollable (the top four) ranked higher than those that could be controlled (the bottom four). Williams et al. (57) advanced a similar theory of tactic knowledge to distinguish the factors that influence tourism intentions based on the dichotomy of risks that are known (the bottom four) and unknown (the top four) to the traveler.

The factors ranking the highest among travel-related risks related to environmental health and instability. Regarding environmental health, the results of the current research supported previous studies that found hazards such as contracting an infectious disease and contaminated water to be deterrents to international travel (22, 32, 41, 42, 46).- Similarly, the current research also supported previous studies, including two studies involving Olympic tourism, that found hazards related to instability such as terrorism, riots, and street crime, to also deter international travel (6, 10, 11, 25, 30, 44, 57) ). However, findings in the current research contradicted the majority of studies involving Olympic tourism which found security or instability risks to minimally impact travel intentions (6, 18, 19, 38, 39, 48, 54). A rationale for the difference is that majority of the studies finding instability risks minimally impacting travel intentions were conducted with spectators who already arrived at the Olympic host city while the research herein was conducted with a random sample of individuals who had not traveled to any location and would only be considering a trip to attend the summer Games.

The factors that ranked the lowest among travel-related risks that would impact Olympic tourism intentions related to personal limitations. Personal limitations such as one’s health status and the availability of time, money, visas, and passports are known factors that an individual seemingly has control over. Therefore, consistent with previous research, personal limitations, especially when related to stressors, were not considered as strong of an indicator in deterring tourism intentions (36).

Fear of the unknown was the only factor that appeared in all seven possible paired comparisons for statistical significance. Specifically, individuals were significantly more fearful that risks related to riots or terrorism, contracting an infectious disease, exposure to contaminated water, street crime, and concerns over cost and time issues were greater than their fear of the unknown. On the other hand, individuals were significantly more fearful of the unknown in discouraging travel to the summer Olympics than they were of the impact of visa or passport issues and their personal health. Individuals indicated significantly greater fear for the uncontrollable or uncertain risks associated with traveling (e.g., riots and street crime) and significantly less fear of travel-related risks that they seemingly had more certainty about (e.g., personal health).


Consistent with prior research in sports tourism, the current study supports the theory that risks related to environmental health (27, 32, 46, 42) and instability (6, 10, 25, 30, 57) ) are among the leading deterrents of travel decisions to an international destination. Additionally, travel risks that are uncertain or unable to be controlled are typically a greater deterrent than risks that are certain and seemingly able to be controlled. Known risks apparent to the potential traveler in the preliminary stages of tourism decisions support the assertion by Williams et al. (57) that individuals have greater control over travel risks that are certain. Known risks that are seemingly controllable are not perceived to be as great of a deterrent to Olympic tourism as the risks that are unknown and not in the control of the traveler which is supported by Reisiner and Mavondo (46) and Sonmez and Graefe (50) who found that higher levels of uncertainty about potential risks associated with a destination were stronger predictors of decisions to avoid international travel than to visit a location.

The overriding consideration is that perceptions of factors that discourage travel to the summer Olympics are not singular in nature, thus, researchers have purported frameworks to illustrate the interaction among a multitude of risk factors that affect tourism decisions (15, 26, 28, 29, 33, 46, 58).   It can be surmised that replicating the study at the 2024 and 2028 summer Olympics in Paris, France and Los Angeles, California would reveal similar results in terms of uncertain risk factors that are out of the control of the traveler ranking higher than travel risks that are known and able to be controlled.

A limitation to the current research is that participants responding to the survey associated with the 2020 Tokyo Olympics were in the middle of a global pandemic which caused massive lockdowns of entire countries and cancellations or postponements of hundreds of events including the summer Games. Another limitation is that a majority of subjects likely had no intentions of attending the summer Olympics as they were solicited in a snowball fashion to increase participation.


According to a report by Allied Market Research, the global sport tourism market is a rapidly expanding industry expected to reach $1.803 billion by 2030 (1). Rivaling only the World Cup, the Olympics is arguably the premier international sport-spectator event. Understanding the factors that may discourage traveling to a host city to attend the Olympics would assist practitioners in deciding what elements of marketing and promotional campaigns would be most effective to attract visitors. Since risks that are uncontrollable or uncertain are more likely to deter Olympic tourism than risks that are known, marketers may choose to accentuate the safety and security measures of a destination to deter acts of terrorism and street crime in addition to minimizing or alleviating potential environmental health issues. Understanding the types and degree to which risk factors influence travel intentions to the summer Olympics or a mega-event can assist organizers in framing communications with potential visitors and local businesses.

Appendix – List of Investigators


  1. Dr. Bonnie Tiell – Tiffin University – Tiffin, OH
  2. Dr. David Waters – Viterbo University – Lacrosse, WI
  3. Lori Sabatose – Clarion University – Brockport, PA


  1. Cara Roach – Tiffin University Alumni – Trenton, OH
  2. Yi Shing – Tiffin University (MBA)- Beiging, China
  3. Marsha Gaye Knight – Tiffin University (MBA) – Ontario, Canada
  4. Molly Magill – Tiffin University (MBA) –  Oceanside,  CA
  5. Kathleen Bautista – Tiffin University (MBA) – Manteca, CA
  6. Ellen Kaplan – University of Georgia – Johns Creek, GA
  7. Sonia Wymiarkiewicz – University of San Francisco – San Francisco, CA
  8. Tatianna Carthorn – University of Mt Union – Clinton, OH
  9. Andrew Garnica – Ohio University – Springboro, OH
  10. Alex Mallue – Seton Hall University – Canton, OH
  11. Anthony Madle – Seton Hall University – Wildwook, NJ
  12. Katie Tiell – Lynn University – Boca Raton, FL


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