NZ’s decision to close its borders will hurt tourism but it’s the right thing to do



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Siouxsie Wiles

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has done exactly what is needed to limit the spread of COVID-19 in New Zealand and the Pacific. Two new cases were confirmed today, just hours before new border restrictions come into force.

From midnight today, nobody (including residents) will be able to enter New Zealand without first going into 14 days of self-isolation. People arriving from Pacific Islands are the only exception to this new rule.

The new cases bring the total in New Zealand to eight. They have all been people who arrived from overseas – Iran, Italy, Denmark, the United States and Australia – or family members with whom they had extensive close contact. We should expect to see more cases in the days and weeks ahead.

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said the latest cases reinforce the new border restrictions.

Reducing the flow of people [with COVID-19] coming into New Zealand and ensuring that those who do arrive are required to immediately self-isolate are essential frontline tools in our response and in preventing wider outbreaks in New Zealand.

I expect it is going to take months or even years, rather than weeks, before the pandemic is contained because some other countries aren’t responding quickly enough. New Zealand’s new measures will hit tourism, but they are necessary to keep COVID-19 under control.




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The next line of defence

I use a fire analogy to describe how the COVID-10 pandemic is spreading around the world. Countries with community transmission of the virus – this list is growing by the day – are each a blazing fire. Anyone leaving these countries is a potential ember that can seed a fire somewhere else.

So far, New Zealand has done a good job of catching any burning embers and stamping them out. This is the role of contact tracing and self-isolation. But the median incubation period for the virus is around five to six days, with most people developing symptoms within 11 days, and we should expect more cases.

Ardern has seen the growing number of fires overseas. She has listened to experts telling her there will soon be too many embers to catch and she made the call to deploy the next line of defence: fire breaks.

This is the right move and follows that of Samoa which put travel restrictions in place very soon after the virus emerged. Our Pacific neighbours do not have the same resources New Zealand has to carry out contact tracing or treat the very ill.

It is only a few months since Samoa experienced an extensive and deadly outbreak of measles, which likely started when someone incubating the measles virus travelled to Samoa from New Zealand.




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Minimising spread New Zealand’s best chance

Many people are surprised by the strength of the measures. Apart from the entry restrictions through airports, cruise ships are also banned from coming to New Zealand until at least the end of June. As Ardern herself said the restrictions are among the most stringent in the world.

COVID-19 is a serious illness. From the outbreak in China we know about one in five people will need to be hospitalised. About one in 20 people will end up in intensive care, and one in a hundred will need a ventilator to help them breathe.

The reality is almost everybody in New Zealand is susceptible to catching the virus. While many of us will only experience a mild to moderate version of COVID-19, if the virus were to sweep New Zealand as it is other countries, we would not have enough hospital and intensive care beds or ventilators to care for those who need them.

Depending on a person’s age and whether they have any underlying health issues, we could see as few as four deaths in every thousand infected people under the age of 50, but as many as seven in every 50 people if they are over 80. People with diabetes and and high blood pressure are also more likely to experience a severe infection.

China built new hospitals in a matter of days and weeks to be able to care for the ill. In New Zealand, we are about to head into winter, the busiest season of the year for hospitals.

If COVID-19 took hold here, our medical staff could soon find themselves in the awful position of having to decide who gets a bed or a ventilator, as they are now considering in Italy.

New Zealand’s best chance to get through this unprecedented global crisis is to minimise the chances of the virus establishing here. Given we will remain susceptible to the virus, we may need to wait for the pandemic to burn out or until a vaccine is developed before life returns to normal.The Conversation

Siouxsie Wiles, Associate Professor in Microbiology and Infectious Diseases

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

COVID-19 has now reached New Zealand. How prepared is it to deal with a pandemic?



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Michael Baker, University of Otago and Nick Wilson, University of Otago

New Zealand joined 48 other countries affected by the novel coronavirus last week when health authorities confirmed the first COVID-19 case. The news prompted panic buying of supplies in some places, but it had long been expected.

The management of the case seemed exemplary. Shortly after arriving in New Zealand from Iran, the person became unwell, rang the national health information service (Healthline) and was directed to a hospital where they were placed in isolation. Family members and fellow passengers on the flight were tracked and placed into home quarantine.

As yet, there is no evidence of transmission to others and New Zealand remains at the “keep it out” stage of its pandemic plan.




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Preventing a pandemic

Like many countries, New Zealand has two broad phases in responding to an emerging pandemic: the containment phase followed by the management phase.

The containment phase aims to prevent, or more likely delay, the arrival of a pandemic. New Zealand is managing this by excluding some travellers entirely (currently from China and Iran, except New Zealand residents and their families). It also requires those arriving from a growing list of countries to “self-isolate” for 14 days to reduce the risk of infecting others if they develop disease. Such quarantine is unsupervised, but travellers are encouraged to register with Healthline.




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Border controls make intuitive sense for limiting the movement of infectious diseases between countries. There is evidence they delay the entry of pandemic diseases, and they have sometimes prevented the spread of pandemics to islands. Travel restrictions are not generally supported by the World Health Organization, but it offers no advice specific to islands or for extremely severe pandemics.

If a case of COVID-19 is detected during this containment phase, efforts are made to “stamp it out” by isolating the person and placing their contacts under quarantine. Such measures were effective in ending the SARS epidemic, but are probably unlikely to do more than delay the more infectious COVID-19.

A COVID-19 pandemic could potentially become one of the greatest public health disaster threats in New Zealand since the 1918 influenza pandemic when 9,000 New Zealanders died.




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Managing a pandemic

The detection of cases that have no known connection to travel typically marks the beginning of community transmission and a shift in focus from eliminating an infection to managing it.

With COVID-19, this stage may arrive quite suddenly. Because most cases are mild, the virus may be transmitted through several generations before being detected, perhaps only when someone develops more severe symptoms and is admitted to hospital. This pattern is called silent transmission. It has been reported in a number of locations for COVID-19, including in the US.

In the management phase, interventions focus on dampening down transmission by encouraging hand washing and cough etiquette, which can be poor even during pandemics. Social distancing (working from home, closing schools etc) is also effective at slowing transmission, at least for influenza pandemics.

During this phase, the focus is also on ensuring health-care services are organised to manage increased demand, particularly for scarce resources such as intensive care, and health-care workers are protected from infection.

Health services are critical for reducing the risk of death during a pandemic. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has a relatively high case fatality risk. Nearly 1% of the infected people on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship have died.

What New Zealand needs to do

New Zealand has many natural and institutional advantages in managing the health and economic threats of a pandemic. Like Australia, New Zealand’s island status and ability to control its borders may buy time to continue pandemic planning. Given the seasonality of other known coronaviruses, the summer timing may provide further protection.

But the pandemic has hit New Zealand at a challenging time for public health. Capacity has been reduced by erosion and fragmentation of responsibilities across several agencies over the past decade or more. New Zealand is emerging from a severe national measles epidemic that had its roots in neglected public health infrastructure that failed to raise immunisation coverage sufficiently to prevent it.

New Zealand has a relatively low score, coming in far behind Australia, on the Global Health Security Index, which assesses pandemic capacity. We hope that an upcoming review of the health and disability sector will propose a major upgrade of public health in New Zealand.




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New Zealand’s response to COVID-19 is driven by the 2017 edition of the influenza pandemic plan. But we should also learn from the experience of other countries.

COVID-19 disease risk is highest for older people and those living with chronic health conditions such as diabetes, chronic respiratory disease and heart disorders. Unfortunately, a pandemic is likely to magnify social and ethnic inequalities through multiple pathways linked to poverty, poorer access to health care and a higher prevalence of chronic health problems.

We should learn from China’s apparent success in containing the pandemic, while at the same time balancing all interventions with a strong focus on human rights.

Here are other measures New Zealand could consider to prepare for this pandemic:

  • Start talking about a pandemic, rather than using euphemisms, to make it more real.

  • Form a parliamentary group to ensure multi-party engagement with the response. During an election year, it would be distracting for the response to become politicised.

  • Follow Australia’s lead and other developed countries and rapidly develop a specific COVID-19 emergency plan.

  • Consider measures to protect the most vulnerable populations. One option is “protective sequestration” to prevent spread to certain islands or regions as was achieved in the 1918 flu pandemic. This approach is being rolled out at a country level by Pacific nations, notably Samoa which now has some of the tightest border controls in the world.

  • Also consider a “safe haven” policy to protect vulnerable groups such as older people with chronic conditions by temporarily moving them to carefully managed locations (such as high quality aged care facilities or even protected islands) for the duration of the pandemic.The Conversation

Michael Baker, Professor of Public Health, University of Otago and Nick Wilson, Professor of Public Health, University of Otago

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How should leaders respond to disasters? Be visible, offer real comfort – and don’t force handshakes


Rosemary Williamson, University of New England

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been harshly criticised for being on holiday in Hawaii as the catastrophic bushfires were burning Australia.

Since his return, he has visited stricken communities – most recently, on Kangaroo Island yesterday. He has acknowledged the emotional toll on victims and promised practical support.

But the criticism continues. Every detail of the prime minister’s performance is being scrutinised via the 24/7 news cycle and social media. There is plenty of scope for perceived missteps, and little tolerance of them.

Disaster of any kind throws qualities of leadership – or the perceived lack thereof – under the spotlight. By what criteria, then, do we evaluate a leader’s performance at such times? What do we look for?

Criticised for being out of touch, Scott Morrison made a visit to Kangaroo Island to tour the fire damage and meet with locals.
David Mariuz/AAP

How Jacinda Ardern got it right

These are questions that have guided my research on how prime ministers have historically connected with Australians during times of peril.

During crises, people expect two things, broadly speaking. One is practical information, advice and support to minimise the risk faced by those directly impacted. The other is “humanistic communication” – or, the ability to offer comfort.

Last March, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern showed both of these qualities in her decisive response to the massacre of 51 people at two mosques in Christchurch.




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She immediately provided detailed information and promised aid and tighter gun control measures. And she unambiguously aligned all New Zealanders with the Muslim community by what she said – “They are us” – and by standing with community leaders and comforting those in distress.

Importantly, Ardern also wore a headscarf when meeting the families of victims. This was seen as a strong and culturally sensitive statement of solidarity and support – a mark of good political leadership.

Women across New Zealand wore headscarfs in solidarity with the victims of the attacks after Ardern’s gesture.
SNPA Pool/EPA

Being on the ground to see themselves

Australian leaders have long shown strength in times of need, but the way they do so has changed over time. Today, there’s much more emphasis on being visible.

Following the Black Sunday bushfires in Victoria in 1926, for example, The Age printed a speech by Prime Minister Stanley Bruce in which he promised federal government aid and praised the heroism and altruism of Australians.

When the Black Friday fires devastated the state 13 years later, The Age quoted an “appalled” Prime Minister Joseph Lyons, who promised aid and expressed his “heartfelt sympathy” to victims.

But nothing was said in the newspapers back then about either prime minister interacting directly with victims.




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A leader wouldn’t get away with that these days. Since televisions became ubiquitous in people’s homes, it’s become necessary for leaders to be on the ground following a disaster, surveying damage and consoling victims.

Prime Minister Harry Holt, a savvy user of the media in the early years of television, travelled to Tasmania in the aftermath of the Black Tuesday fires in 1967. Holt said he had to go to see for himself, to better understand people’s experience and needs. A detailed study of the 1967 bushfire response notes that Holt’s visit, while short, “caught the imagination” of journalists, who reported his reaction to the devastation in vivid detail.

This is what we now expect. Visits to disaster sites have become rituals vital to crisis management and a fixture of disaster reporting.

Listening to victims

For a prime minister, such visits are also a chance to express those inherent qualities of “Australianness” that guarantee a full recovery. Everything that is said and done matters, which is why small details are heavily scrutinised.

People do not expect to be held at arm’s length on these occasions. Expressions of empathy are often reinforced by physical contact, even hugs.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd demonstrated this following fires in Victoria in 2009, as did John Howard in the wake of the fires that swept through Canberra in 2003. They shook hands, patted backs and embraced survivors and emergency service workers.

John Howard comforting a fire victim in a Canberra suburb in 2003.
Pool/AAP

Others have got it completely wrong. Among his many missteps in his response to Hurricane Katrina, President George W. Bush delayed returning to Washington from his vacation by two whole days. An image of him surveying the damage from Air Force One then backfired – a decision Bush later called a “huge mistake”.

When Hurricane Harvey devastated Texas in 2017, President Donald Trump was likewise criticised for paying too little attention to victims when he toured the site. And after the Grenfell Tower fire in London, UK Prime Minister Theresa May admitted that not meeting residents on her first visit was a mistake.

Misjudging what type of response is welcome from a leader also risks being seen as symptomatic of poor leadership, of being out of touch with the people. As we saw recently with Morrison, not everybody appreciates a handshake.

Stilettos and camouflage jackets

Even what a leader wears may be important. First Lady Melania Trump, for instance, was widely mocked for wearing stiletto heels to tour the Harvey devastation.

And when Prime Minister Julia Gillard went to Queensland in early 2011 following extensive flooding and held a press conference with Premier Anna Bligh, some commentators focused on the differences in their attire. Gillard, with her tidy suit, was criticised for not striking the right note. Bligh’s more casual appearance, meanwhile, had the look of someone more in touch with the suffering of the people.

Earlier this year, Morrison was also faulted for wearing a military camouflage jacket when touring a north Queensland flood zone, with some saying he was “hamming it up” for the cameras.

Morrison visiting flood victims in Townsville last February.
Dave Acree/AAP

Authenticity matters more than anything

The reactions to Morrison’s handling of the bushfires shows how important these qualities are in our presidents and prime ministers and how they will continue to influence perceptions of leadership in times of crisis.

Just as every leader is different, every disaster also requires a distinct approach. Each demands quick and sensitive judgements about what’s appropriate for the occasion. Reaction to any perceived errors of judgement will be swift and will spread quickly.

Above all, we look for authenticity in these moments, rather than obviously scripted photo opportunities. And in times of crisis, we’re more attuned to those out-of-touch moments when authenticity seems to be lacking.The Conversation

Rosemary Williamson, Senior Lecturer, School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, University of New England

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why were tourists allowed on White Island?



The volcanic alert level on Whakaari/White Island remains at three, one rung higher than it was when the eruption took place.
AAP/GNS Science, CC BY-ND

Michael Lueck, Auckland University of Technology

Emergency crews have retrieved six bodies on Friday and continue to search for two further victims of Monday’s volcanic eruption at Whakaari/White Island.

The people on the island were tourists and tour guides, including visitors from Australia, the UK, China and Malaysia, along with New Zealanders. Several of the tourists were passengers from the cruise ship Ovation of the Seas.

There is a 50% chance the volcano will erupt again in the next 24 hours.
Michael Schade, CC BY-ND

GeoNet, which operates a geological hazard monitoring system, says there is still a 50-60% chance of an eruption occurring that could impact outside of the vent area within the next 24 hours.

But the question being asked now is why tourists were allowed on such a dangerous island. This will probably feature prominently in investigations – both by police and WorkSafe.




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Safety guidelines for volcano tours

White Island is privately owned, and only permitted operators are allowed to take tourists on guided tours. White Island Tours is one of the main operators in Whakatane, a township on the east coast of the North Island, and they had people on the island yesterday.

This operator has stringent safety checks and was even named New Zealand’s safest place to work in a workplace safety award last year.

But earlier this month, GeoNet had raised the alert level to two (out of five), due to “moderate and heightened volcanic unrest”. Should that have caused enough concern to discontinue tours to the island?

Hindsight is always 20/20, but any visit to an active volcano, or volcanic field bears a certain amount of risk, and usually it is managed by governmental bodies generally, and the tourism industry in particular.

The management, or lack thereof, varies by country and jurisdiction. Commonly, organisations such as GeoNet provide real time updates on volcanic activities and issue warnings of potential hazards. In the case of White Island, it falls ultimately to the operators to decide whether or not to send tours to the island on any given day.

Leading geo-tourism researcher Patricia Erfurt-Cooper notes there is a “distinct lack of safety guidelines for volcano tours at most sites, which is compounded by language problems”.

Management strategies include multi-lingual signage, such as in Japan, and the closure of active sites, such as in Hawaii.




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Often, volcanic geologists are able to read early signs of activity, and predict eruptions hours, if not days in advance. But this is not always the case, as we saw yesterday and in the 2007 eruption of Mount Ruapehu.

History of accidents in adventure tourism

Volcano tourism is a subset of adventure tourism, and New Zealand has had its fair share of incidents in this sector. Many will remember the collapse of a viewing platform at Cave Creek in 1995, where 14 people died. After the collapse, the Department of Conservation (DOC) inspected more than 500 structures, resulting in the closure of 65.

A commission of inquiry found a number of shortcomings in the building of the platform and DOC took responsibility for the accident. Since then, New Zealand law has changed so government departments can be held responsible and liable for negligence in offences under the Building Act.

Worldwide, there have been several deadly volcanic eruptions, including Japan’s Mount Ontake in 2014. This steam-driven eruption occurred without clear warning and killed 63 people hiking the mountain, in what became the country’s most deadly eruption in nearly 90 years.

In 2013, the eruption of Mayon volcano in the Philippines killed five climbers. Last year, one tourist died in an eruption of Italy’s Stromboli volcano, which has become a resort island.

Assessing risks

New Zealand promotes itself as the adventure capital of the world, and it is a fine balance for an operator to provide the (often advertised) excitement the thrill-seeking tourists are looking for, and the safety of everybody involved.

Research shows the majority of thrill-seekers are looking for risk, but in a controlled way. The adrenaline rush is paramount, but they don’t seriously want to be at risk of injury or loss of life.

The tragic events of White Island reiterate that we must be vigilant, and have excellent risk management strategies in place. Perhaps it is time for the tourism industry, government and volcanic experts to review current rules. We can minimise the risk, but we can never totally rule it out.

Any adventure tourist must be aware of the potential risk they are taking and should check the tour operator’s website for information about the risk they’d be undertaking, and how the tour operator plans to manage it. If the operator doesn’t have this information available – choose another one.The Conversation

Michael Lueck, Professor of Tourism, Auckland University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why White Island erupted and why there was no warning



The sudden eruption at White Island was short-lived but produced an ash plume that rose several kilometres above the vent.
GNZ Science, CC BY-ND

Shane Cronin, University of Auckland

Five days after a sudden volcanic eruptions on Whakaari/White Island, off the east coast of New Zealand, on Monday, emergency crews have retrieved six bodies and continue to search for two further victims.

The island is a tourist destination and 47 people were on it when it erupted on Monday afternoon.

Volcanologists at GeoNet, which operates a geological hazard monitoring system, described the eruption as impulsive and short-lived, with an ash plume that rose to more than three kilometres above the vent.

This footage was taken by Michael Schade whose family got off Whakaari/White Island 20 minutes before it erupted.

Volcanic hazards

White Island is one of several volcanoes in New Zealand that can produce sudden explosive eruptions at any time. In this case, magma is shallow, and the heat and gases affect surface and ground water to form vigorous hydrothermal systems.

In these, water is trapped in pores of rocks in a super-heated state. Any external process, such as an earthquake, gas input from below, or even a change in the lake water level can tip this delicate balance and release the pressure on the hot and trapped water.

The resulting steam-driven eruption, also called a hydrothermal or phreatic eruption, can happen suddenly and with little to no warning. The expansion of water into steam is supersonic in speed and the liquid can expand to 1,700 times its original volume. This produces catastrophic impacts.

The expansion energy is enough to shatter solid rock, excavate craters and eject rock fragments and ash out to hundreds of metres away from the vent. We know of sites in New Zealand where material has been blasted out over three kilometres from the vent by such eruptions.

The eruption on White Island sent sent huge amounts of steam and ash into the air in the blast.
GeoNet, CC BY-ND

Potential for further eruptions

The hazards expected from steam-driven eruptions are violent ejections of hot blocks and ash, and the formation of “hurricane-like” currents of wet ash and coarse particles that radiate from the explosion vent. These can be deadly in terms of impact trauma, burns and respiratory injuries.

The eruptions are short-lived, but once one happens, there is a high chance for further, generally smaller ones as the system re-equilibrates. White Island is an acute location for such activity, but it is not the only location in New Zealand where this can happen.

Mount Ruapehu (crater lake), Mount Tongariro (Te Maari and Ketetahi) and geothermal areas of the central North Island all have the potential to cause such events. We know there have been more than 60 hydrothermal eruptions in the last 100 years in New Zealand. Some of these have caused loss of life.




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Each volcano has unique warning signs that eruption is imminent


No warning

Monitoring and warning for hydrothermal eruptions is a huge challenge. We don’t normally see these eruptions coming, no matter how much we would like to. Many systems are already “primed” for such events, but the triggers are poorly understood.

The warning periods, once an event gets underway, are likely in the order of seconds to minutes. Our only hope for anticipating these events is to track potential vapour and liquid pressure in hydrothermal systems and to learn from their long-term behaviour when they are at a super-critical state. Unfortunately there are no simple rules that can be followed and each hydrothermal system is different.

In this age of technology and instrumental monitoring, it seems irrational that there should be little or no warning for such eruptions. The eruption is not caused by magma, but by steam, and this is much harder to track in our current monitoring systems.




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We have seen several other fatal hydrothermal catastrophies unfold in other parts of the world, such as the 2014 eruption of Mount Ontake in Japan. New Zealand has been luckier than many other parts of the world, until now.The Conversation

Shane Cronin, Professor of Earth Sciences, University of Auckland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Call for clearer risk information for tourists following Whakaari/White Island tragedy



The Royal New Zealand Navy during a recovery operation on Whakaari/White Island, on December 13. Rescue and recovery efforts have been hampered by hazardous conditions on the island, and the danger of another eruption.
EPA/Royal NZ Navy, CC BY-ND

Freya Higgins-Desbiolles, University of South Australia and James Higham, University of Otago

In the aftermath of the tragedy at Whakaari/White Island on December 9, many are analysing the risks of adventure tourism, particularly volcano tourism, and asking pointed questions.

It is a sensitive time, with 15 people now confirmed dead, many hospitalised in critical condition, and two bodies yet to be retrieved from the disaster zone.

We question whether the tourists caught up in the events actually knew the risks they faced, and whether other tourist groups may be unaware of the potential risks that their travel decisions may carry.

Although geologists are monitoring Whakaari/White Island, some volcanic activity cannot be predicted.



Read more:
Why were tourists allowed on White Island?


Risk assessment and visitor safety

The websites for White Island Tours and the promotion pages on the Bay of Plenty website are currently not viewable. But the Trip Advisor site for Whakaari calls it “New Zealand’s most active volcano”. It mentions the need for gas masks and hard hats and describes conditions of a still active volcano, including steam vents and sulphurous fumes.

But it is doubtful that cruise ship passengers, such as those from the Ovation of the Seas, would have done such research. Cruises offer a variety of shore excursions when in port, ranging from passive sightseeing to adventure activities.

Many tourists will assume endorsed excursions have been properly vetted by their cruise company and assume there is negligible risk to personal safety. But this may not be the case.

Major cruise lines such as Royal Caribbean visit multiple destinations with very different regulatory environments. The assumption that shore excursions will be safe may be misplaced, both by the cruise line and the visitors they book on such excursions. This is now clear from the events at Whakaari but also in previous incidents, such as last year’s fatal bus crash in Mexico.

Local supporters gather on the quayside as a boat that carried families for a morning blessing at White Island returns during a recovery operation to retrieve the remaining bodies.
AAP/David Rowland, CC BY-ND

Adventure capital

New Zealand is known as an adventure tourism destination, but its regulatory systems have undergone recent change. After 37 deaths over four years, then prime minister John Key ordered an urgent safety audit in 2009.

This resulted in a shift, from 2013, from a voluntary system under Outdoors New Zealand and the regulatory system under Worksafe NZ to the New Zealand adventure activity certification scheme. Some tour operators have found this audit system too onerous. Striking the right balance between risk management while allowing the adventure tourism sector to thrive has proved difficult.

But the case of Whakaari/White Island is unique in many ways. The island is privately owned. GeoNet monitors volcanic activity and rates the threat level. The tour companies then assess the risk and determine if visits can proceed or should be temporarily suspended.

Three companies have operated tours to Whakaari/White Island, including the Māori-owned White Island Tours (owned by Ngāti Awa). The other two are helicopter companies Kahu and Volcanic Air Safaris. White Island Tours was accredited under AdventureMark, which is a Worksafe NZ approved certification body.

We must await the Worksafe investigation to know whether it was reasonable to allow the tours to go ahead when volcanic risk rating had risen from level 1 to level 2. We also still await the full human toll, knowing that recovery for survivors may take years. It is also clear that the impact on Ngāti Awa and the Whakatāne community has been profound.

Inherent risk in active environments

In laying out these complexities in which small private tour companies and large internationally owned cruise ships took thousands of visitors to Whakaari each year, we underscore how difficult an assessment of risk might be for some visitors.

Adventure tourists typically make an assessment weighing up risks against the thrills they seek to achieve. New Zealand’s reputation for adventure tourism is built in part on well developed policy settings and regulatory regimes, and an expectation among visitors of high adventure safety standards.

Risk – both perceived and actual – is carefully managed to ensure that perceived risk is high but actual risk is as low as humanly possible. The reputation of the sector and, indeed, the interests of the wider New Zealand tourism industry hinge on high safety standards. For example, bungy jumping appears to be very high risk, but its commercial viability comes from the highly controlled operation, which means actual risk is in fact very low.

Set against this are longstanding activities that take visitors into spectacular settings to experience firsthand the wonders of nature. Such environments do present inherent risk even if many decades may pass between natural events.

The Pink and White Terraces – the largest silica sinter deposit on earth – were a spectacular visitor attraction in the mid-19th century, and the centrepiece of Māori tourism development. That was until they were completely destroyed by the eruption of Mount Tarawera in 1886.

New Zealand’s most stunning natural vistas – Aoraki/Mount Cook, the fjords of Te Wahipounamu world heritage area, towering glaciers and raging rivers – are the result of millions of years of seismic activity on the Pacific and Australian tectonic plate boundary. These environments are dynamic and, at times, very destructive.

These settings contrast adventure tourism activities. Risk may be perceived as low or non-existent given that these environments may be largely inactive for years.




Read more:
Why White Island erupted and why there was no warning


Informed consent

In a complex international environment, the ultimate decision to participate in activities in dynamic and potentially destructive environments rests with the visitors.

Ultimately, visitor welfare depends on informed visitor choice. This case highlights the need for consent forms to be signed in many more cases, beyond those already used in adventure tourism and medical tourism.

Such documents should make clear the nature of the possible risks. Elevated risk levels on the day of the visit as well as changing risk levels in the days prior to the scheduled visit should be clearly communicated. Participation should only proceed after informed consent is secured.

Such an approach does not obviate the need for accreditation, audits, regulations and strict oversight by relevant authorities. But it does ensure that tourists play their part in deciding what risks are worth taking on their holidays.

We cannot undo the events that unfolded at Whakaari/ White Island, but we can honour lives lost by making absolutely sure that we learn from this tragedy.The Conversation

Freya Higgins-Desbiolles, Senior Lecturer in Tourism Management, University of South Australia and James Higham, Professor of Tourism, University of Otago

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.