Traveling in the Wake of Disaster
The oil spill clean-up is on, the aftershocks have subsided, the political riots are over, and the volcano’s ash is dissipating….in all cases, the local economy is suffering and tourism could sure use a bolster. But is it time to go?
Most economies struggle greatly with a massive decline in tourism following a disaster, whether it be caused by fighting factions, negligent corporations or acts of the gods. Here’s a few considerations when planning your post-disaster trip.
Step One: Assessment
Make sure conditions are stabilized and safe within the country. Are people still scrambling for food and shelter? Has transport and commerce been reestablished?
You’ll want to make sure you are not overloading the infrastructure and eating up resources destined for locals still reeling from the aftermath. Don’t let the desire to be in the middle of the action, even if you have the most altruistic of intentions, allow you to stand in the way of the region getting back on its feet. For some people this may require a bit of sol-searching, as disaster tourism – essentially large-scale rubbernecking – has become part of the cultural lexicon. I’m not even kidding.
Step Two: Do your homework & get involved
Once you’ve determined that the effected region’s infrastructure has bounced back enough to support outside visitors, let the rebuilding effort become a part of your purpose in traveling there. Do your part to pitch in and help!
Do some research beforehand and connect with a well-organized volunteer project before you leave home. (I’m talking one that has a good track record of being effective, like one of my favorites, Hands On Disaster Relief) Find out specifically what they are looking for in terms of skills, tools, time commitments and expenses. Be prepared to help not only with your two hands, but with all costs associated with being a part of the effort. Find out what you can bring in terms of supplies, and consider collecting donations from family and friends to bring with you as well.
Step Three: Roll up your sleeves
With a firm handle on the conditions and concrete idea of how you’ll be able to help, you’re now ready for a unique opportunity to connect with locals at a pivotal time in their history. Taking part in a united effort for recovery is a great framework to base a trip on, a time when you may get a more intimate connection with the people you are spending time alongside. Take time to listen to their stories and learn from their varying perspectives. That said, be sure to stay sensitive to the fresh wounds and lasting trauma of loss and grief from recent events.
Even if you choose not to engage directly in a relief or rebuilding project, consider the impact of your tourist dollars, now more than ever. Everywhere you stay, eat and shop should ideally be in direct support of the local tourism economy of that area. Consider spending money that would normally go towards souvenirs and tchochkes on local disaster relief efforts instead. For example, the North Andaman Tsunami Relief project organized an artisan’s cooperative in the wake of the 2005 tsunami, and continues to sell handmade boats and other products as part of their effort to support communities devasted by the tsunami.
photo by seua yai7 comments