A number of large fire situations in the last years in Europe, Southeast Asia, Australia and North America have revealed the vulnerability of tourists and tourism facilities to the direct and indirect effects of wildland fires.
Fires burning under extreme weather conditions have repeatedly threatened camp grounds, national parks and other tourist resorts. Evacuations of tourists from fire-threatened recreation sites in the Mediterranean region and other places worldwide have caused great concern. Extended periods of smoke pollution have also negatively affected both local and visiting populations.
On the other side it has been observed that tourists are not always aware of the potential danger of becoming trapped by wildfires or of being a source of wildfires due to negligent handling of barbecue fires or smoking.
At the last two International Fairs for Alternative Travel (Reisepavillon) in 2004 and 2005 an event annually held in Hanover, Germany a group of environmental and wildland fire specialists were invited by the Integrated Tourism Group TUI to reflect about the role and relationship of the tourism sector to the problem of forest fires and other wildland fires.
A series of suggestions were made to focus the response to the situation with regard to the role of the tourism sector and tourists. It was pointed out that in the context of modern landscape development, tourism is often the strong sector that can help shape other sectoral developments. Although reconstruction of burnt areas is the responsibility of agricultural, forestry and conservation departments, the cross-cutting influence of the tourism sector can bring a valuable dynamic if done sensitively.
Emphasizing the concept of voluntary responsibility, it was proposed that actors in the tourism sector (tour operators, destination service providers and tourists) are asked to participate in the reconstruction efforts in each area. Among a number of measures it was suggested that a system can be established in which:
Visitors to the area are provided with destination-specific information on what happened and how the situation can be recovered.
They are asked to make a donation to support tree-planting schemes in the destinations that they visit.
Tourism stakeholder enterprises and institutions should collaborate with conservation bodies (public, NGOs) and local destination management authorities to develop a European-wide reconstruction project in the fire
After first discussions in 2004 TUI and the Global Fire Monitoring Center (GFMC) agreed to produce and distribute a flyer Like the Phoenix from the Ashes: Forest fires in the Mediterranean and neighbouring regions- natural environmental factor or ecological risk? which is distributed to TUI tourists and also available one this GFMC website:
This flyer provides first hand information and watch-out situations for tourists and encourages them to visit the GFMC website for wildland fire background information, recent fire events and fire disaster early warning.
GFMC and TUI have agreed to jointly utilize the wildland fire early warning capabilities that are in place in order to reduce threats and losses of tourists.