Disaster Management: Kelowna Tourism Industry's Preparedness, Impact and Response to a 2003 Major Forest Fire

By Hystad, Perry; Keller, Peter | Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Management, April 2006 | Go to article overview

Disaster Management: Kelowna Tourism Industry's Preparedness, Impact and Response to a 2003 Major Forest Fire


Hystad, Perry, Keller, Peter, Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Management


This article summarises a case study investigating the relationship between a disastrous forest fire and the local tourism industry. During the summer of 2003, the region of Kelowna in British Columbia experienced an unusually severe forest fire that required evacuation of over 26,000 people, destroyed 238 private homes, caused a major disruption of the region's main tourism season, and destroyed several major tourism attractions. A case study was undertaken to examine how prepared Kelowna's tourism industry was for such a disaster, how the tourism industry responded to the disaster, what impact the disaster had on the different sectors of the tourism industry, and what lessons were learned. A survey of 104 local tourism businesses was conducted, as well as a review of government and organisational reports and the analysis of 175 media articles covering the fire. This article highlights some of the findings.

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A sizeable amount of research investigating the relationship between tourism and crises and disasters has begun to emerge (Beirman, 2003; Cassedy, 1991; Cushnahan, 2003; Faulkner, 2001; Health, 1995; Richardson, 1994; Ritchie, 2004; Santana, 1999). Faulkner (2001) notes, however, that few case studies exist examining the impacts of disasters and crisis on the local tourism industry, how industry has responded, and the response of government agencies. He calls for further research to identify the varying impacts and response strategies by a tourist destination, both during and after a disaster. Research reported here aims to contribute to this research agenda by exploring a tourism industry's preparedness, impacts, and response to a major forest fire disaster. Examining a major forest fire as a case study was thought opportune since forest fires often affect a tourism industry during the height of the season during the summer holiday months, and therefore have the potential for very large economic impacts on the industry. The study also is of importance to Canada, since forest fires appear to be increasing in frequency and magnitude posing a growing risk and disaster potential.

The achievement of a sustainable tourism product requires the incorporation of tourism disaster planning and disaster response strategies into community and business frameworks. Despite the fact that disasters and their impacts are becoming frequent headlines in relation to tourism, few tourism businesses and tourism destinations are prepared to handle a disaster's immediate- and longer-term impacts (Cassedy, 1991). In reality, tourism disaster planning seldom appears to be well conducted at the community level, and also to be rarely, if ever, carried out by individual tourism businesses (Cassedy, 1991). Little has been done by the tourism industry to understand how a disaster evolves once started, the typologies and anatomy of different disasters, how tourism is affected by and responds to disasters, and current disaster management strategies (Santana, 1999). Research is required to address these questions especially given that, with the exception of the airline sector, much of the tourism industry has belatedly begun to realise that disaster management should be a core aspect of its overall business structure (Beirman, 2002). The case study reported here aims to contribute towards understanding some of these questions.

The case study examines the Okanagan Mountain Park forest fire in British Columbia, Canada, that started on August 16 of 2003 and raged for over a month. It explores how prepared the tourism industry was for a major forest fire given a reasonable expectation that such an event could occur; how the industry responded when a disastrous forest fire actually happened, and that caused extensive damage and severely disrupted the tourism season; what recovery strategies were put in place; and what lessons were learned.

The article commences by introducing the Kelowna tourism product and associated industry.

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