Disaster Tourism. Don’t Even Go There…

Sometimes bad things happen to good destinations. When disasters happen, it is good for tourists to stay away… for a short period of time.

Natural disasters- floods, hurricanes, earthquakes

Health issues – Disease outbreaks, sanitation and water issues

Safety concerns – War, terrorism, civil unrest, crime, poverty, trafficking.

Any of these affects the local economy, not just because of damage and direct losses but because tourists stay away in droves and sometimes for far longer than needed.

During a Disaster

During a disaster, tourists need to stay away. That may be a non-issue, because you may not be able to get to your destination. Flights may be cancelled and tourists may be evacuated early from the destination before a forecasted disaster hits or after, once it is safe to evacuate

Tour operators and airlines may add extra flights for evacuations (The flights going to the destination are often used by disaster relief agencies to move personnel and supplies into the area at little or no cost).

Immediate aftermath

Well-meaning people may fly into a disaster area to help – to do SOMETHING. Going into an area with supplies but without food and local contacts is a very bad idea.

As an untrained volunteer, they may wind up in trouble, sick or without shelter. Taking care of “disaster tourists” takes valuable resources away from deserving beneficiaries.

To find out about volunteering and becoming part of the GlobalMedic Rapid Response team click here

In the immediate aftermath, the critical resources are Water, Sanitation and Hygiene. Clean water is necessary to maintain life and sanitation is critical for disease prevention. Without these two items, the disaster becomes worse.

Shelter may also be an immediate concern in the case of a natural disaster as housing stock may be compromised or unsafe.

Security is also an issue to prevent looting and theft of critical supplies. There is often a breakdown in local policing as communications and personnel may be unavailable.

Medical treatment centers and medical evacuation are also an immediate priority along with recovery and safe storage of any deceased individuals.

Food becomes important after a few days and it is necessary to have relief supplies and large scale kitchens in place. Most people can survive a few days without food. (Or in my case many days…)

Secure storage for equipment and supplies are required along with barracks/shelter for relief personnel.

Damage assessments via photo, video and UAV flights provide planners with situational awareness and government authorities with information to begin recovery operations. Uav flights free helicopters to do more urgent relief work and operate at a much lower cost.


4-6 Weeks Post Disaster

Longer-term, shelter and, in the case of flooding, mould remediation, become priorities.

Building supplies, peroxide, bleach and cleaning supplies would need to be shipped in along with heavy equipment and lifting devices.

Employment for local people is important to begin efforts to revive the economy and put people to productive work.

Restoring infrastructure such as power, communications and rebuilding tourist facilities are now necessary to continue to create work for local people until other industry is rebuilt.

After 3 to 4 Months

This is the right time for tourists to start coming back to a location. Tourist dollars are the fastest way to pour money back into the pockets of people who desperately need it.

In a disaster, much normal employment disappears. Factories and stores may not be repaired or restocked but large hotels are quickly restored and local people may guest host tourists.

Hard hit areas may not be ready but others are unaffected. In the Bahamas, Freeport and in particular, Abaco was hit very hard by Hurricane Dorian but Nassau seems relativity undamaged. Today it serves as a temporary home for others who are displaced.

Tourists provide jobs for restaurant workers, housekeeping employees, gardener’s, bartenders, truck drivers, laundries, HVAC repairmen, tour guides and many more people.

It is fast money into the economy and provides a lasting base to begin building infrastructure. Tourism also attracts investment capital for further development.

Too many people stay away from conflict areas or areas where disasters have occurred because of rumours, false impressions and ignorance.

I went to Bogota Colombia and had a great time. I felt safe (although just as in Toronto, there are areas that are not safe) and was not bothered at all as I walked. Many tourists overlook Colombia as a destination because their only experience and reference point is watching Narcos on Netflix.

Mexico, Puerto Rico and now the Bahamas all suffer because the tourist perceives they will not have the ability to enjoy a holiday in the way they would prefer.

Toronto suffered for years after the SARS crisis when it was truly unnecessary. You had more chance of being in a road accident with a pink Volkswagen than any tourist ever did of catching SARS.

Make no mistake, the Bahamas WILL NEED TOURISTS. This winter especially, but just not right now.

If you would like to donate to support GlobalMedic’s efforts in the Bahamas, go to www.globalmedic.ca

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