Recently, on White Island, New Zealand, a volcano erupted killing at least 8 people. On the day of the disaster, tour groups were visiting the volcano just like any other day. This recent event begs the question, who is at fault for disasters in areas of adventure tourism? Are people just incredibly unlucky, or are there faults in the system?

The volcano on White Island is a must-see for many visitors, and in New Zealand, the experience can be quick, accessible and affordable. The island averages 18,000 tourists per year. Safety procedures are taken seriously, and visitors are provided with safety briefings, the signing of waivers and the distribution of safety gear such as a gas mask. Moreover, the tour specifically warns its passengers of the constant risk of eruptive activity. The safety precautions are evident, and as a tourist, you would be entitled to assume that if the tours were allowed to operate, the risk would be low.

Furthermore, the decision regarding risk is determined by tour operators who utilise GNS to provide updates on the island through its geological hazard monitoring system and GeoNet which rates activity from zero to five with five being a significant eruption. All these systems are put in place to ensure the minimisation of risk for individuals looking for an adventure.

However, Emeritus Professor Ray Cas, from the School of Earth, Atmosphere and Environment at Monash University in Melbourne has visited the island twice and has concluded that the risks faced by daily boat and helicopter tour groups are too high. Does this information mean that a disaster could have been avoided?

I believe it is down to the visitor. Many of these disasters can occur with little warning, and it has to be down to the individual as to whether they will take the risk. This is the same scenario as a bungee jump. Every precaution can be taken to ensure safety, however; issues can always happen.

Regardless, adventure tourism should not be ‘closed’ due to events such as the White Island eruption unless they have been proven to be unsafe. Many of these activities bring an enormous amount of tourism to local economies and are considered unique experiences for individuals on holiday. The risk will always be present, and it must be down to each individual to determine whether it is a risk they wish to take.

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23 thoughts on “The Danger of Adventure Tourism

  1. If you’ve got the capacity to make the decision to go to places like this, knowing the risks, the nanny state shouldn’t be able to stop you. I write a letter before I leave to climb a mountain about where to distribute my worldly belongings just in case 👍

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think this is definitely true when the person has an understanding of the risks. The decision has to be up to them, or if it is proven to be unsafe to a degree that it is deadly, than they must be stopped. All the best to you!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Well put. We live on an incredible plant, with so many fascinating places to visit and experience.
    It would be a shame for us to be bared from visiting certain places, unless of course as you said it was proven to be unsafe.

    When I stepped foot on White island, I knew it was a volcano, although I was a little nervous. Perhaps I didn’t quite comprehend how dangerous it was, when I went they had a policy that at any sign of increased activity they would cancel the tour, just to be safe.
    I trusted tour operators to know when it was safe to visit or not, but volcanoes can be unpredictable.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, I completely agree. There are so many beautiful places on the world that we would never be able to see if we cancelled all instances of adventure tourism.

      How do you feel now, after the recent eruption? Yes, they can be very unpredictable.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. It’s hard to say quite how I feel. I don’t feel relived or grateful that it wasn’t me, because it could happen to anyone. Mostly I’m a bit shocked, I feel awful for the families. The trauma the survivors faced is unimaginable.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. Agreed, each of these destinations or activity needs to be assessed and sometimes, it will simply come down to timing and luck. Climbing Everest, parachuting, bungee jumping and many other experiences are inherently dangerous and that is what attracts people. That being said, I would never jump out of a plane or off a bridge. As the criminal investigation continues on this one, I wonder if it was the tour operator who pushed the envelope here or the cruise ship whose passengers had booked the tour or simply Mother Nature being Mother Nature.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, I guess that is what will be revealed through the investigation. Regardless, I think some appreciation has to be shown towards the unpredictability of volancoes and even if there were signs of a possible eruption, who is to blame? Do you think trips to White Island should be banned from now onwards?

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I do not think the trips should be banned, but I am almost certain they will be. This will be too bad for the town of Whakatane and the tour operator, but New Zealand has shown in the past that they are a country of action. Cheers. Allan

    Liked by 2 people

  5. A really interesting post. Some friends visited Whakaari/White Island a few weeks before the tragedy, and have said the safety briefings were clear and comprehensive, so I guess there is an argument for caveat emptor.

    I do wonder though about the impact of cruise ships on the White Island tour “industry.” I understand that most if not all of the visitors came from a cruise ship, which was only in port for a day. In that instance, cancelling a tour would mean a huge (if not 100%) loss of revenue as those visitors can’t re-book for another day. Did that put pressure on operators?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes that could definitely be the case. Especially in a community which relies on the income from the tours, that could be an argument. I think it is a matter of whether the volcano was scientifically proven to be unsafe on the day it erupted. If that is the case, than it can’t be the fault of the victims for taking the risk.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m not sure something like that can ever be actually scientifically proven. The alert level had been raised, but as far as I’ve heard, there was not specific warning given for that day.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. As someone who has visited Whakaari/White Island twice over the years, I agree with many of the comments already made here. I think it is down to the individual to decide whether to take the risk, based on the information given by the tour operator. I also remember being clearly told the day before that the tour would be cancelled if it was not deemed safe to go. So we sign the waivers and go. It’s always a risk. And sadly, I also think that it will be long time – if ever – before these tours run again, at least landing on the island. Perhaps boat tours around the island will still be possible, but that won’t be “thrilling” enough for some people.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It is the sad reality of a disaster such as this. I feel for the families and wider community impacted as it was such a sudden event whcih many did not see coming. I think there might also be the misconception that this tour wasn’t adventure tourism. When someone signs a waiver and people have been doing something for years safely, it can maybe lead to a false sense of security among visitors?

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I agree with one of the comments that says we assume because we’re able to go there, it must be safe. Despite waivers and briefings about the dangers, do we ever really believe there is a risk to life? And we put our faith in the operators doing what’s best for us but there is plenty of historical evidence that financial considerations lead to more risks being taken. I’m not saying that’s the case here, we’ll see what comes of the investigation. But as adventure tourists I think we need to be aware that our safety may be in the hands of accountants.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for your comment! I think the point you elaborate on is definitely valid and something to think about. THe thought when partaking in adventure tourism is never ‘well this could have serious consequences on my life’. That message is often neglected. Maybe change is required?


    2. “…our safety may be in the hands of accountants”. What a great point, I’ve never quite thought of it in those terms before. I think it will really change how I look at things in the future.

      Liked by 2 people

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