Tourists visiting New Zealand need to be well-informed of risks, professor says

12:29 am on 12 December 2019

A professor of tourism says he's been told the tour operators on Whakaari / White Island are some of the most professional out of companies operating around volcanoes.

Whakaari / White Island

Whakaari / White Island. Photo: Unsplash / Farrah Fuerst

Michael Leuck, professor of tourism at Auckland University of Technology, told Lately: "... tour operators certainly have very, very good guidelines and from everything I can hear, especially White Island Tours because they are so experienced, they have pretty good safety checks and they check every day with GeoNet before they go out about the conditions and do a proper briefing as well.

"For example, I have a PhD student who did his master's thesis on volcano tourism and he did White Island and he also went on the Tongariro Crossing and many others in the Philippines and so on. And he said by far the White Island Tour was the most professional one and the most stringent in terms of safety checks. So, they certainly seem to be doing a good job there."

But he said going forward, we needed to be much clearer with tourists about the potential risks they faced.

"Then if something happens, they have to deal with consequences. If they decide 'Yes, I'm 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're not disclosing that. And I would say probably some operators don't disclose the risk, because it might potentially put people off ... But generally, yeah, we need to tell people what kind of risk they (are) potentially taking."

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

Professor of Tourism, Michael Leuck, from Auckland University of Technology

Michael Leuck. Photo: supplied

He said New Zealand had it's fair share of adventure tourism accidents.

"I suppose, you know, we will see now volcano tourism being assessed."

But he said "we can't 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 you take a certain risk. It's a live volcano, you know, that might erupt at any time.

"Sometimes volcanologists can tell you days, at least hours in advance, sometimes they can't."

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

"People do climb up the active volcanoes and close to the crater so there's much more potential risks (than elsewhere)."

Tourists aware of risks

Earlier today, tourists told RNZ they'd become more aware of the risks of travelling in New Zealand, but it wasn't a deterrent.

Dutch tourists Tessa Biesheuvel and Sjoerd Bakker said they came to New Zealand thinking it didn't pose any risks.

"When we went to New Zealand, that it was like all perfect and no nature disasters, but then it turned out it can happen," Bakker said.

Biesheuvel said 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 visitors are well aware of the risks involved in adventure activities - and to balance the risk and the reward.

He said there would always incidents that couldn't be eliminated.

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

But first, the priority was to help and support the people involved.

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