A Responsible Tourism Approach to Volcanic Ash Clouds
The weekend eruption of Mt Agung on the popular Indonesian tourist island of Bali led to the cancellation of many flights to and from Bali by Jetstar, Air Asia, Qantas, Virgin Australia and KLM. The status of flights is heavily dependent on the intensity of ash particles in the atmosphere in the vicinity of the volcanic eruption. Volcanic ash particles can cause severe damage to aircraft engines which endanger passengers and crew.
The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), which is the UN governing body for the airline industry, routinely advises airlines that they should cease operations or avoid flying in areas in which the density of volcanic ash particles exceeds a certain level.
The cancellation of flights to and from Bali was in accordance with ICAO protocols and those set by individual carriers. Some individual airlines may choose to set protocols which are even stricter than those of the ICAO. Flight cancellations in such situations are not intended to cause inconvenience to passengers but in the far greater interest of passenger safety.
One of the problems which arises when such events occur centres on the differing messages from airlines and national and regional tourism authorities. In the case of Bali, airlines have a responsibility to ensure their passengers have safe conditions in which they fly. Alternative modes of transport to get travellers to and from Bali cannot cope with the high level of tourism demand. It is understandable that Bali’s tourism authorities want to see tourism continue at current high levels. However, should a major eruption of Mt Agung occur, Bali’s emergency services and transport services would have face extraordinary difficulties coping with the evacuation and medical needs of international and domestic tourists and local residents.
In April 2010 Western Europe experienced a week of chaos resulting from the ash cloud of a volcano in Iceland which virtually closed down airline services in 11 countries. As a result of this event most airlines in the world developed a set revised protocols for responding to volcanic eruptions which could potentially disrupt flights.
Murray Cobban, Virgin Australia’s manager for Passenger Facilitation and Regulation recently discussed the airline’s strategic approach to volcanic eruptions on Bali at a meeting of Australian government and travel industry leaders. Virgin, in common with all responsible carriers which service Bali have considered their approach to Bali very carefully due to its popularity as a destination for Australian travelers. One of the main points Mr Cobban asserted that the messages communicated by airlines and local/national tourism authorities to travelers should be be shared and consistent.
Unfortunately the situation which has occurred in Bali is that the destination authorities are telling travelers all is Ok and keep coming while the airlines are advising caution. ETB readers who recall the classic movie “Jaws” should be aware that ignoring danger is not a very productive way to promote long-term tourism to a destination.
Update 28 November 2017.
The Indonesian government and the Balinese tourism authorities have now begun to issue updates for tourists acknowledging concerns about the volcanic activity on Mt Agung. This is a positive move which should be welcomed and acknowledged.
To View the Bali Tourism Board’s latest statement please CLICK HERE