"Disaster Tourism" Stirring Up Controversy

"Tornado Tourism" map being distributed in Joplin, MO.

By Trent Aric - Meteorologist
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JOPLIN, MO - On Sunday, May 22, 2011, Joplin, Missouri was struck by a catastrophic EF5 tornado, leaving a 22 mile long path of destruction that was a mile wide in some areas.  The tornado killed 162 people and injured thousands.  Nearly eight months later, the city's Convention and Visitors Bureau is coming under fire for offering visitors a free "tornado travel" map which highlights areas hit by the tornado and can be picked up for free at local hotels and businesses. 

Some residents of Joplin were outraged after hearing this news and made their opinion clear on the Joplin Convention and Visitor Center's Facebook page.  Comments ranged from "tacky" to "great idea. 

In response, the JCVB posted a response making it clear that the "tornado travel" map was not a marketing piece, but rather created in response to seven months worth of requests from volunteer groups, contractors and media to help them navigate through the town and destruction. 

They also make it clear that there is no reason to deny that tourists are indeed heading to Joplin to see the aftermath for themselves.

Some city officials see this as a positive step, being that most of the sightseers end up contributing to the local economy by spending their money at local restaurants, hotels and shops. 

If Joplin city officials were promoting "tornado damage tours" it wouldn't be the first time that something like this happened. 

Post-Hurricane Katrina tours were a hot ticket following the storm that struck the Gulf Coast in August of 2005.  The tours were thought to be "insensitive" at first but eventually were excepted and extremely popular with major tour operators such as Gray Line. 

Gray Line still offers two Hurricane Katrina tours.  For $48, you can take the 3 hour tour called "Hurricane Katrina –America's Greatest Catastrophe," where, according to Gray Line's website, you will "get an eyewitness account of the events surrounding Hurricane Katrina, the worst natural disaster on American soil!"  They also guarantee that you will drive past an actual levee that breached after the storm. 

So what do you think about "disaster tourism"?  How would you feel about visitors coming to see a storm ravaged South Florida?  Is it tacky for tour operators to profit off of others losses?  Or does it provide a much needed economic benefit to a recovering community in need? 

Let me know what you think!  Please comment below…

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