CAUTHE 2017: “Black hole” post Kaikoura quake could have been devastating for tourists

A “black hole” in knowing where tourists were and what they were doing could have had devastating consequences if Kaikoura’s earthquake had taken place during the day, according to Lincoln University’s David Simmons.

Speaking at a Risk, Crisis and Recovery session at the 27th CAUTHE conference in Dunedin, the Professor of Tourism pointed to a number of shortcomings in the recovery plan, including a lack of data on tourist’s daily travel and activity patterns.

David Simmons

This “black hole” in knowledge could have been devastating if November’s 7.8-magnitude quake hadn’t taken place during the night when the town’s 1,200 travellers were in their accommodation.

“It would have been a completely different magnitude disaster in human terms if it had happened 12 hours earlier,” said Simmons. “What would we have known about their whereabouts?”

If people were badly injured and the town isolated from outside help, then that lack of knowledge could have had severe consequences.

This, he added, raised a question about relying on hotels and the accommodation sector to be the points of first contact [in a disaster], especially when much of the staff might be seasonal and transient itself.

Simmons also pointed to “an absolute disconnect between marketing and management” during the recovery.

He described the situation when the tourism information office says “actually our business runs on clicking tickets and I have these people talking to me about wanting to get going”, so, they’re talking it up.

Meanwhile operators are getting frustrated because they’ve got their businesses at risk, and also their houses and their temporary staff.

“It is accepted that if you turn a tourism tap on before your basic services are ready you can actually push recovery backwards.”

In Kaikoura, he said there was a handful of hours where the basic services came together “but I don’t think there was any planning”.

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