Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Keeping Track of Tourists

I'm not sure what the numbers are, but every year New Zealand's police and search and rescue units spend a whole lot of time looking for lost tourists in the bush. People from around the world have heard about how magnificent the hiking is down here, and so they are determined to see it for themselves, whether or not they've done much hiking before.

Now New Zealand is mulling over ways to keep better track of visitors who may be wandering aimlessly around the back country, ill-prepared and without any proper understanding of local conditions. The latest proposal is an online service where visitors can register their intentions before they even arrive in the country.

The registry and other information (such as the availability of locator beacons) would be available in several languages, and users would be able to update their intentions as needed. The idea is to get people to take responsibility for their own safety. This isn't Disneyland. You can't expect barriers in place to prevent you from falling down a cliff, or slipping into a crevasse, if you don't have the skills to be there.

I'm guessing this is going to take some time to set up - if it happens. But if it cuts down on the number of people who are genuinely surprised when their cell phones don't work in the middle of a national park to call in a rescue because they forgot to pack a fleece - well, that would be a step in the right direction.


Phreerunner said...

Amazing - we visited NZ last year and found the trails incredibly well marked. If some of your visitors tried walking in Europe, I suspect they'd have difficulty finding even their starting point!

Mike said...

I wonder if such a system could also be adapted for New Zealanders to be able to leave their intentions before they start wandering aimlessly in the back-country.

Most people I know are really good at this (although some prefer to leave info with reliable friends than with DOC because I guess friends are more likely to notice if something's wrong), but I bet some would leap at the chance to have the simplicity of telling DOC online.

I guess one of the biggest problems might be people who don't bother to indicate when they've returned safely, or who might forget or be unable to do so for 2 or 3 days later.

Maple Kiwi said...

I think there's something similar in place in Canada (or is it the US?) You can register your intentions online and the system alerts the local police if you don't indicate your safe return.
It's not just good for tourists, but certainly anyone who goes out alone!
I'm sure there would be lots of false alarms though. It's a tough problem to solve.

Mike said...

I was thinking about this more after I posted my comment, and it occurred to me that even though on the face of it this looks like an alternative to leaving intentions at road-ends specifically for tramping, it's probably as much to figure out when people aren't missing in the back-country, and having an idea of where people are for their entire trips.

I bet the New Zealand Police and SAR get a lot of calls from worried parents overseas who think their children are missing, when what's really happened is that they've simply neglected to call home for a month and they've probably never given their parents accurate contact details because with the nature of how many people travel around NZ, they may not have known exactly where they'd be until they got there.

If there were a voluntary register like this, though, it'd be much quicker and easier for the police to figure out where a person should be, track them down, and decide if something is just a false alarm.