The volcanic eruption of Eyjafjallajokull in Iceland and the ensuing ash cloud that blanketed airspace grounded over 100,000 flights to and from Europe. Combine this latest disaster with a growing list of reasons for Australasians to cancel or postpone longhaul travel – a global financial crisis, numerous terrorist attacks, twisters, earthquakes, floods, and let’s not forget swine flu, bird flu, etc – and you have to almost take your hat off to anyone brave enough to head off to those far flung exotic lands that were once a traveller’s dream.
Whilst we by no means rejoice over natural disasters that befall some foreign countries, and we certainly don’t envy them their troubles, we can raise a few toasts, or perhaps say a few Hail Mary’s, at the relative peace, security and safety that we enjoy Down Under.
In the past few weeks, I’ve come to realise that Let’s Travel’s mission statement of getting New Zealander’s and Australians to rediscover their own backyards is no longer just a pipe dream. Our dream is becoming a reality as many more of us seek to holiday and play much closer to home than ever before.
We’ve also had a steady stream of offshore subscriptions coming in of late, which more than likely points to the fact that foreigners are thinking along the same lines – heading to regions that are comparatively free of major natural disasters and still offer relative peace and safety. The data appears to back this up, reporting a 7.4% increase in International Visitor Arrivals for March 2010.*
In fact, our neighbours in Australia account for the biggest climb, with over 100,000 visiting our shores in March, a massive 19.8% increase on the same month last year. It’s also worth noting that more Kiwis are visiting Australia’s shores, too, with over 75,000 NZ residents headed that way in March alone, compared to just over 45,000 making trips to the UK, USA, Asia and Europe.
Tourism in fact plays a major role in our country’s welfare, contributing some $15billion dollars (around 9%) to the total GDP and supports just short of 10% of our workforce. It’s a very real and positive industry that we should all be supportive of.
Thus, it was with a very warm heart and tears clouding my vision that I discovered a Facebook page called Stranded in New Zealand. Within hours of the page being set up, Kiwis from around New Zealand were offering beds, floor space, meals or even just a shower to foreign travellers stranded here when the aforementioned ash cloud continued to bog down any hope of them getting back home. Complete strangers were being made welcomed into private homes with the tap of a few keys.
It was humbling to read the comments …. And I’m sure I’m not alone when I say Thank You to all those who made those visitors feel that, whilst they may have been stranded, they certainly weren’t alone or isolated.
“To travel is to possess the world”
– Burton Holmes (1870 – 1958)
* International and Domestic Visitor Arrivals and Departure information can be found at www.tourismresearch.govt.nz