We have seen wildfires affect so many countries and communities around the world over the last couple of years that there is a real danger of seeing them as merely a symptom of the new normal of climate change.
Wildfires and floods make the news headline for a day or two in originating markets. and then the media focus moves on to other issues or the impact on tourists. We see little if anything now of the impacts of floods and fire in holiday destinations across the Mediterranean Europe, the Americas and Australia.
Fire and floods cause significant damage to property and people, habitats and wildlife. It takes time for the place to recover. But the media has moved on, and the destination has no reason to remind people of the impact. They want tourists to return quickly.
One of the characteristics of tourism is that the tourist has to travel to the “factory”, the destination, to consume the product they have purchased. This gives tourism an advantage over, say, a shoe factory. There are opportunities for additional sales of food, beverage, craft, art and sundry goods in the destination, and local communities can benefit, although they experience the polluting effects of tourism, the many forms and consequences of what is generically described as “overtourism”.
Fire and floods are a natural consequence of climate change. The human and financial costs are massive, and the impact on travel and tourism are very high. People lose their livelihoods, and their environment is devastated. The Insurance Journal on 14th August was estimating the losses from the Hawaii wildfires at $14-$16bn. The latest figure for deaths is 96 and it is expected to increase.
A Maui resident told the BBC’s Sophie Long that tourists are swimming where “people died” during the wildfires. The resident continued: “That says a lot about where their heart and mind is through all of this… “The same waters that our people just died in three days ago are the same waters the very next day these visitors, tourists were swimming in.”
You don’t see our people swimming, snorkelling, surfing. Nobody is having fun in tragedy and continuing their lives like nothing has happened.Maui resident told the BBC
“There is two Hawaiis right now — there is the Hawaii we’re living in and the Hawaii they’re living in, they’re visiting in,” the Maui resident said.
The native Hawaiian American actor Jason Momoa has discouraged visitors. : “Maui is not the place to have your vacation right now. “Do not travel,” he said. “Do not convince yourself that your presence is needed on an island that is suffering this deeply.”
Tamara Paltin, West Maui councilwoman, said “We don’t want to be seeing people on vacation when we’re trying to pull our lives back together. We don’t want our roads closed because tourists can’t follow directions. If you’re a tourist, don’t come to Lahaina. I don’t care if you have reservations, now is not the time. Go someplace else, please,” she conlcuded.
The fires on Maui have reminded us that the interests of tourists and locals are different and that in a crisis, hotel and vacation rentals are essential for rescue workers and the homeless.