The COVID-19 pandemic imposes significant risks to human lives. As destinations around the world prepare for an economic rebound, compulsory mandates in the tourism and hospitality contexts are contingent upon collective compliance to contain the virus (McCartney, 2020).
Travellers’ risk perceptions are crucial to understanding their compliance and adoption of protective behaviours (Chi et al., 2021). Researchers have found various factors affecting travel risk perceptions that are either COVID-19 related (e.g. Sánchez-Cañizares et al., 2020) or unrelated (e.g. Ritchie et al., 2014). This research focuses on the optimism bias, the erroneous belief that risks and hazards are less likely to happen to self than to other people (Weinstein & Klein, 1995). Studying optimism bias in the tourism context is important, as optimistically biased individuals are less likely to take preventative behaviours (Fragkaki et al., 2021) and comply with the government’s COVID spread mitigating measures (Dolinski et al., 2020). The optimism bias has been the focus of health risks research, which is not only associated with a hopeful outlook on life (Weinstein, 1980) but can also influence behaviours such as processing of incoming risk-behaviour information (e.g. Menon et al., 2002) and evaluation of
occupational health and safety hazards (e.g. Caponecchia, 2010). While researchers have examined factors that could mitigate the impact of optimism bias (e.g. Helweg-Larsen & Shepperd, 2001), the effects of individual differences on optimistically biased risk perceptions have largely been overlooked.
This research examines an important individual difference variable – the ‘perceived vulnerability to disease’ (Duncan et al., 2009; henceforth, ‘PVD’). PVD comprises two subdimensions: the perceived susceptibility to the disease (‘perceived infectability’) and the experience of emotional discomfort within a disease-transmittable environment (‘germ aversion’) (Díaz et al., 2016). Duncan et al. (2009) argued that perceived infectability captures one’s subjective beliefs of contracting infectious diseases, while germ aversion represents one’s psychological discomfort arising from pathogentransmitting environments. This argument is consistent with the tricomponent attitude model (Ostrom, 1969) that views cognition and affect as distinct components of attitude.