Recently, on White Island, New Zealand, a volcano erupted killing at least 8 people. On the day of the disaster, tour groups were visiting the volcano just like any other day. This recent event begs the question, who is at fault for disasters in areas of adventure tourism? Are people just incredibly unlucky, or are there faults in the system?
The volcano on White Island is a must-see for many visitors, and in New Zealand, the experience can be quick, accessible and affordable. The island averages 18,000 tourists per year. Safety procedures are taken seriously, and visitors are provided with safety briefings, the signing of waivers and the distribution of safety gear such as a gas mask. Moreover, the tour specifically warns its passengers of the constant risk of eruptive activity. The safety precautions are evident, and as a tourist, you would be entitled to assume that if the tours were allowed to operate, the risk would be low.
Furthermore, the decision regarding risk is determined by tour operators who utilise GNS to provide updates on the island through its geological hazard monitoring system and GeoNet which rates activity from zero to five with five being a significant eruption. All these systems are put in place to ensure the minimisation of risk for individuals looking for an adventure.
However, Emeritus Professor Ray Cas, from the School of Earth, Atmosphere and Environment at Monash University in Melbourne has visited the island twice and has concluded that the risks faced by daily boat and helicopter tour groups are too high. Does this information mean that a disaster could have been avoided?
I believe it is down to the visitor. Many of these disasters can occur with little warning, and it has to be down to the individual as to whether they will take the risk. This is the same scenario as a bungee jump. Every precaution can be taken to ensure safety, however; issues can always happen.
Regardless, adventure tourism should not be ‘closed’ due to events such as the White Island eruption unless they have been proven to be unsafe. Many of these activities bring an enormous amount of tourism to local economies and are considered unique experiences for individuals on holiday. The risk will always be present, and it must be down to each individual to determine whether it is a risk they wish to take.
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