As most of you know, we conducted a study this summer. This was completed for a couple of reasons. The first goal of the project was to establish a baseline for the significance of the show cave industry worldwide and tell the world how show caves contribute to the global economy. This has never been done before and will be incredibly valuable information to have. The second purpose was to find out to what degree the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted show caves, our employees, the economy, and our mission. We had a great response from show caves all over the world – 101 caves in total from 20 countries across 6 continents. The survey data represents 1/16 of the world’s show caves, which allowed us to draw important conclusions about the industry and show caves worldwide.
Pertaining to the first goal of identifying the significance of the show cave industry, the data showed that in 2019, 144 million people visited show caves worldwide generating an estimated €1.72 billion ($1.93 billion) of economic benefit. Further, during show caves’ 2019 peak season, nearly 70,000 people were employed by the industry with a payroll of almost €700 million ($786 million). These numbers suggest that show caves offer a vibrant, important contribution to the economy.
Although these statistics paint a nice picture of the health of the show cave industry and its economic benefit, the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been substantial. As a result of COVID-19, approximately 94% of the show caves in the world closed, and as of June 30, only 77% had reopened. Directly related, in the first half of 2020, show cave visitation worldwide declined 59%, which amounts to a loss of an estimated 42 million visitors. Additionally, visitor spending was down 61% amounting to €514 million ($577 million) of revenue lost. It is also important to note that 13% (5.44 million) of the lost visitation can be attributed to students and school groups. Of extreme importance, 40,000 show cave employees (58%) worldwide were laid off at some point due to COVID-19. Fortunately, 33,300 (83%) of those laid off had been rehired by the end of June. As can be seen here, the negative impact of the pandemic has been significant and extensive. It is important to emphasize that we still do not fully understand the magnitude of COVID-19 on show caves because these data were collected in the middle of the summer, and the pandemic is still ongoing. More research is needed once the pandemic is over to fully capture the effects.
In addition to collecting information on the economic significance of the show cave industry and effects of the pandemic, we also asked show cave managers to report the health and safety protocols their show cave has implemented due to COVID-19. The linked presentation shows a list of these protocols and what percentage of show caves have implemented them. Practices such as enforcing physical distancing, wearing face masks, and increasing sanitization ranked very high. Some of the less likely reported protocols on the list may be useful for caves to consider and to identify ideas for improvement.
Once again, we’d like to thank all of you who helped us complete this project. This information is invaluable and will be used in the future in a variety of ways. Importantly, please utilize this information to your benefit. Share the data with others in the show cave industry and our affiliates. ISCA will be sharing this information with the media via a press release, and we encourage you to share it as well with your local media to create more awareness and support for the show cave industry. Finally, we plan to continue to further analyze the data and follow up with more surveys in the future to provide a more comprehensive assessment of the effects of COVID-19 and the state of the industry over time.