Volcano deaths will bring more caution

A view from the Westpac Rescue Helicopter of White Island after the eruption. Photo: Supplied
A view from the Westpac Rescue Helicopter of White Island after the eruption. Photo: Supplied
The Whakaari/White Island disaster is unlikely to cause lasting harm to New Zealand’s tourist industry but will strengthen warnings about risky activities, a university academic says.

University of Otago Centre for Sustainability deputy director Caroline Orchiston said there were "continuing significant local impacts" for tourism operators in the Bay of Plenty.

She emphasised yesterday the "need to be respectful’, given the suffering of injured people and affected families.

"The global media tends to put the spotlight on events like this one, but their attention quickly moves on to other things.

"I don’t think the events at Whakaari will have a lasting impact on our tourism industry, in terms of NZ Inc," Dr Orchiston said.

Nevertheless, there would be changes in the way tourism occurred on White Island, including if it was allowed to continue.

Given the potential for the cruise company to be sued by affected passengers after the disaster, there would, in future, also be changes in how such companies gained passenger consent, before volcano trips and other potentially risky activities, she said.

Of 47 people at the island when disaster struck on December 9, 16 have died, two are missing presumed dead, and 26 are in hospital with severe burns.

Dr Orchiston said Otago was one of the country’s leading regions for adventure tourism, but visiting an active volcano was "certainly very different" from rafting and bungy jumping.

The latter required meticulous effort to ensure the process was safe, and procedures were followed.

However, there was "huge uncertainty" in taking people to a place of known volcanic hazard, because of the unpredictable nature of the risk.

New Zealand had earlier experienced a series of mainly individual adventure tourism-related deaths in recent decades.

In 2010, the then government announced tighter controls on adventure tourism after a review following the death of a 21-year-old English woman, Emily Jordan, during a guided riverboarding trip on the Kawarau River in 2008.

Adventure tourism activities, such as jet-boating, relied on the natural landscape as a scenic backdrop, which was also "a major drawcard for attracting international visitors".

Such landscape had resulted from tectonic forces over millions of years, which had "carved out our mountains and volcanoes through active processes, such as earthquakes and vulcanism".

This meant New Zealand had "inherent risks that can’t be avoided".

Driving to view Milford Sound was "one of the most popular activities" for international tourists.

However, GNS Science had said the risk of this trip was equal to that of being a forestry worker in New Zealand, partly because of proximity to the Alpine Fault, and avalanche risks, she said.

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