After NZ Volcano Eruption, Should Adventure Tourism Be Better Regulated?

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Image: (Michael Schade/Twitter)

Last week, an eruption at New Zealand’s popular White Island volcano killed 16 people and it’s raised questions about why potentially dangerous tourist destinations aren’t better regulated for safety. This follows a year on Mt. Everest where overcrowding from unqualified mountain climbers created dangerous conditions at the summit.

To make matters worse, in New Zealand geologists had repeatedly warned of increased volcanic activity yet tourists were still permitted to hike the rim of an active volcano. After the eruption, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said: “There will be questions that will be asked and do need to be answered by the appropriate authorities.”

What Experts Say: As the Wall Street Journal reported, Michael Lueck, a tourism professor at Auckland University of Technology, says it may be time for the tourism industry, governments and volcanic experts to review current rules. “I’d rather people were a little more cautious than letting people run into their doom,” he said.

  • The problem is especially acute in New Zealand, which promotes itself as the adventure capital of the world. Experts say tourism operators need to strike a fine balance between providing the excitement thrill-seeking tourists are looking for, and ensuring the safety of everybody involved.

The Liability: While injured tourists have previously sued tourism companies and cruise ship lines for adventure tourism injury, legal liability for accidents vary by country. There’s no real standard, so it’s unclear who will push travel and tourism operators to give more stringent warnings to their customers.

Additionally, James Hickey a volcanologist and lecturer in geophysics at University of Exeter told Skift that “If you’re going to do a bungee jump or a sky-dive you sort of accept that there’s a level of risk there, maybe that needs to be better communicated in geo-tourism and volcano tourism.

Why This Matters: As the WSJ explained, tourism, which many countries once considered a business niche that could yield easy revenue, has become a mega-industry, outpacing global economic growth.

  • International tourist arrivals grew to 1.1 billion in the first nine months of this year, up 4% on the same period a year earlier, the United Nations’ World Tourism Organization says.

While tourists themselves are certainly guilty of bad behavior, local and national governments also need to step up to ensure that people aren’t unknowingly putting themselves in harm’s way. 

Go Deeper: The surprising ads once used to sell tours to the deadly White Island volcano.

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