Your holiday can help: Vanuatu and Nepal appeal for tourists to return

Locals painting their faces with the Nepalese flag at a rally calling for tourist to return to Nepal, on June 23.
Locals painting their faces with the Nepalese flag at a rally calling for tourist to return to Nepal, on June 23.PHOTO: ST FILE

LONDON (The Guardian) - "Disaster tourism" is an ugly phrase, conjuring up images of rubberneckers gawping at others' misfortune.

In the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster, even the most well-intentioned visitors can get in the way if they lack coordination and expertise. They can end up slowing aid efforts.

Yet for developing countries whose economies rely on tourism, luring visitors back at the right moment is a vital step to recovery. Timing is everything.

For two countries that suffered cataclysmic blows this year, the time to visit - or to book a visit - is now.

On 13 March cyclone Pam struck Vanuatu, the island archipelago that inspired South Pacific. With winds peaking at 250km/h, the category-five storm left 16 people dead and thousands homeless.

Another country crying out for holidaymakers is Nepal, where more than 8,000 people were killed on 25 April when a magnitude 7.8 earthquake hit in the heart of the Himalayas. It triggered avalanches in the Langtang valley and on Mount Everest , and devastation in the quake zone on an unimaginable scale. A second earthquake on 12 May killed more than 200 people.

You are very likely to have donated money to help one or both of them, but go there? They probably have not been at the top of your list.

Yet travel warnings have been lifted for most areas and both countries are trying to get the message through that, though they still need aid, your holiday dollars will help greatly.

At the start of June, the Nepal Tourism Board advised that heritage sites were reopening, transport links were intact and most trekking areas were undamaged: "The government of Nepal requests international travellers to visit the magnificent and bustling country of Nepal, and support by visiting it as she attempts to stand proudly on her feet once again. Walk the beautiful trails in the shadows of the most magnificent mountains on Earth as you help the Nepalese people reset their course on the path to prosperity. Nepal is now embarking upon the most fascinating period in all of its ancient history, and you could be right there to see it all happen and your contribution will be a part of rebuilding new Nepal."

It was also at pains to stress that of the country's 75 districts, just 14 were hit by the quakes.

In the Pacific, the Vanuatu Tourism Office is letting the photos of its #VanuatuStillSmiles social media campaign do some of the talking.

It says those "who want to help Vanuatu but don't know how are encouraged to book a holiday there", and lists the hotel and tours open for business. It's also trying to stress that though some islands bore the brunt of Pam - sparking headlines claiming the entire nation had been left homeless - others, like the country's largest, Espiritu Santo, came through unscathed.

It's often said that travellers go to Nepal for the trekking, then go back for the Nepalese. Their hospitality is extraordinary. A mate who clung to a swaying mountain in Langtang when the quake hit has written of how she was taken in by hard-hit villagers. Amid the devastation, one told her repeatedly: "I am sad that you don't have a good holiday."

Just as welcoming, and as resilient in the face of hardship, are the people of Vanuatu. When it comes to smiling they're world champions. Strangers stopped me in the street constantly to chat and thank me for visiting. I took their lead and was soon waving and smiling at everyone I passed. It's that sort of place.