Vacations & Natural Disasters Striking a Balance.

The recent wildfires that have devastated many popular tourist destinations have sparked controversy over the information being given to travellers, not just those going on vacation but also from the local residents who have been affected. In Europe, it was the Greek Island of Rhodes that hit the headlines, with the Hawaiian Island Of Maui being top of the US news.

Rhodes at this time of year is a very popular destination with travellers from the UK probably being the largest proportion of visitors. At the time the fires began it was estimated that over 10,000 Brits were visiting the island, with most having to be evacuated to safe areas, creating a huge problem for the local authorities, who not only had to find accommodation for them but also for their own people whose homes had been destroyed.

Yet the British Foreign Office according to this report from the BBC did not issue any advice on travelling, This is how BBC News reported it:

“The Foreign Office has not advised against going to Rhodes, although it does say if you are planning to travel to any areas affected by wildfires, to check with your travel operator or hotel first – a decision Downing Street has defended.”

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “The current situation is impacting on a limited area in Rhodes and whilst it’s right to keep it under review, and it’s possible that the advice may change, we do not want to act out of proportion to the situation on the ground.”

Then we had the airlines with Easy Jet and TUI being the first to cancel outbound flights from the UK to Rhodes, with the empty aircraft being sent to help with the “repatriation” of holiday makers back to the UK.

One couple who were supposed to be starting their honeymoon arrived and were immediately taken to an evacuation centre, in a comment to the BBC the couple stated: “We’ve been in the dark and we’re just figuring out what’s best for ourselves, because nothing is really being done.”

He added: “We’ve kind of been thrown into a disaster film. It’s been quite sad and seeing my wife upset has been really difficult, but we’re getting through it.”

Other airlines and tour operators soon followed suit, despite the advice given by the UK Government.

In Maui, the situation was the same, mass evacuations from affected areas, yet people were still arriving on the island to start their vacation.

Reports from Maui suggest that there is some animosity brewing between the local population and the tourist industry, with the BBC opening its story with:

“After wildfires devastated parts of the Hawaiian island of Maui, one of the most popular tourist destinations in the US, officials warned visitors to stay away. But thousands remained and others continued to fly in, angering residents in the wake of the tragedy.”

Once again it all stems from conflicting advice, with some tour operators acting as though nothing has happened.

In the case of Maui, the anger between locals and visitors is being severely tested with employees reporting the attitudes of some guests.

These are two reports from local residents and employees:

“The day after the fires, one guest visiting from California, asked if he could still get to his dinner reservation at the Lahaina Grill – a restaurant in one of the hardest-hit areas of the town”. “It’s not OK,” said one hotel employee.

Another Maui local told the BBC that tourists were swimming in the “same waters that our people died in three days ago” – an apparent reference to a snorkelling excursion on Friday just 11 miles from Lahaina.

The snorkelling company later apologised for running the tour, saying it had first “offered our vessel throughout the week to deliver supplies and rescue people but its design wasn’t appropriate for the task”.

So, they offered their “vessel but not appropriate for the task”, so the company knew the situation yet still took payment and ran the excursion. Is that insensitivity or just downright greed?

Both Islands are heavily reliant on tourism, but when situations like these fires devastate the local community, losing their homes and businesses, to see others behaving as if nothing has happened will justifiably create a lot of anger.

In Maui, it has already been reported there was already a “housing crisis”, with workers unable to afford homes near where they work, a problem in any area that relies on tourism. In my own area of Gran Canaria, we are seeing more private apartments and houses being granted “rental” licenses for tourist use, using platforms such as Airbnb. This has had the effect of driving up rental prices as well as reducing the amount of accommodation available to local people who are the workers that make your vacation.

We do have to remember, that most workers who rely on tourism are not on huge wages, in most instances they are on what is known as the minimum wage. To find affordable “homes” usually means being miles away from work incurring huge travelling costs.

We do have to say that some hotels have “temporarily” stopped taking reservations, using the hotels to accommodate their own workers who have lost everything, with the Hawaiian Tourist Authority “asking” visitors “avoid” travelling to West Maui.

This is not a situation that is going to be resolved soon, there is a lot of rebuilding to be done, not just for the property, but the businesses and lives that have been affected. Tourism will help with that regeneration, but it will take time.

To those who complain that they have lost their “vacation”, we say this, you have lost nothing in comparison, the islanders have lost everything.

News reports from BBC News


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