White Island eruption puts spotlight on Volcano Tourism

White Island eruption puts spotlight on Volcano Tourism

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Auckland, December 12, 2019

Whakaari/White Island (Unsplash Photo by Farrah Fuerst)

A Tourism Professor says that he has been told tour operators on Whakaari (White Island) are some of the most professional companies operating around volcanoes.

Michael Leuck of Auckland University of Technology said, “Tour operators have very good guidelines and from everything I can hear, especially White Island Tours because they are experienced and have good safety checks. I have a PhD student who did his Master’s thesis on Volcano Tourism; he did White Island and went on the Tongariro Crossing and many others in the Philippines. He said that by far the White Island Tour was the most professional and stringent in terms of safety checks..”

Assessing risks

But he said that going forward, we must be clearer with tourists about the potential risks.

“Then if something happens, they have to deal with consequences. If they decide ‘Yes, I am going to take that risk,’ then don’t complain afterwards. If you don’t know the risk, then I would put the blame on the operators because they are not disclosing,” he said.

He said any adventure tour customers in New Zealand are asked to sign a waiver, but waivers are not a “free brief” for tourism operators to do whatever they wanted.

He said that New Zealand had its fair share of adventure tourism accidents.

“I suppose that we will see now volcano tourism being assessed. But we cannot regulate everything. We need to be vigilant. We need to be sure that we do the best we can, but we can’t regulate everything. We have to live with the fact that every time you go into an environment like that as a tourist, you take a certain risk,” Professor Leuck said.

Varying regulations

He said that worldwide, there were a lot of active volcanoes regularly visited by tourists. Some had strict regulations  like Hawaii; but other places such as Indonesia and the Philippines where rules are far less strict.

“People do climb up the active volcanoes and close to the crater so there’s much more potential risks,” Professor Leuck said.

Tourists told RNZ that they had become more aware of the risks of travelling in New Zealand, but it was not a deterrent.

Dutch tourists Tessa Biesheuvel and Sjoerd Bakker said that they came to New Zealand thinking it did not pose any risks.

Biesheuvel said that they learnt to expect the unexpected while travelling.

Adrift Tongariro Guiding Director Stewart Barclay said it was the tourism industry’s job to make sure that visitors are well aware of the risks involved in adventure activities  and to balance the risk and the reward.

He said that there would always incidents that could not be eliminated.

Discussions would be had at all levels of adventure tourism following the Whakaari (White Island) tragedy, he said.

But the priority is to help and support the people involved.

The above story, which appeared on Radio New Zealand website has been edited and modified for reasons of space. Published under a Special Agreement with www.rnz.co.nz

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