Rubbernecking or Rejuvenation: Post Earthquake Perceptions and the Implications for Business Practice in a Dark Tourism Context

By Coats, Alex; Ferguson, Shelagh | Journal of Research for Consumers, January 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

Rubbernecking or Rejuvenation: Post Earthquake Perceptions and the Implications for Business Practice in a Dark Tourism Context


Coats, Alex, Ferguson, Shelagh, Journal of Research for Consumers


The situation

"New Zealanders have woken to a tragedy unfolding in the great city of Christchurch. The earthquake that struck the Canterbury region at ten to one yesterday has wrecked death and destruction on a dreadful scale .There is no reason that can make sense of this event. No words that can spare our pain. Today I want Christchurch to hear this message: You will get through this. Though your buildings are broken, your streets awash, and your hearts are aching, your great spirit will overcome. This devastating event marks the beginning of a long journey for your city. It will be a journey that leads us from ruins and despair to hope and new opportunities. From great hardship will come great strength. It will be a difficult journey, but progress is certain, things will get better, Christchurch will rise again."

-John Key, Prime Minister 2011

On the 22nd of February, 2011 New Zealand's third most populated city of Christchurch experienced a devastating magnitude 6.3 earthquake which shattered buildings, destroyed businesses and took the lives of 185 individuals (Heather, 2012; Stevenson, Kachali, Whitman, Seville, Vargo, & Wilson, 2011). The immediate and immense financial implications have been felt not only regionally, but also nationally with the estimated cost of damage predicted to exceed NZ $15 billion (Stevenson et al., 2011). Tourism, New Zealand's top export accounting for 8.7% of national GDP, has been disrupted with the loss of heritage sites and infrastructure, damage to well-known attractions and limited accommodation seen as the main drivers (NZIER, 2011).

In this research we explore how residents of Christchurch, New Zealand negotiate the balance between being the subject of unwelcome tourist gazing and commencing the path towards economic and social recovery from the devastating earthquake. We do this by mapping the residents' perceptions at this point in time (within a close chronological distance to the event) and understand the implications for economic and social recovery. The research has practical implications for business managers operating in this complex environment as they attempt to provide business supply that reduces the inherent tensions of both residents and tourists and meets economic recovery objectives.

The tension

Rejuvenation of the city requires the re-establishment of business as usual. Tourism was a substantial industry within Christchurch and most of the tourist attractions have now been destroyed. Both tourists and residents are motivated to engage with the disaster site for different reasons. Hence, the demand exists to support a purposeful business based upon a tourism product which will generate revenue and move towards regeneration of the city. As a result, a range of services including the recently commercialized resource, the Red Zone bus tours around the cordoned Christchurch CBD have been established. This service provides the specific context for our research. We seek to examine the tensions between residents who feel that any business that seeks to profit from the disaster is unethical and insensitive against recognition of the need to encourage tourism as a means of stimulating the economy and encouraging tourist visitation.

Existing literature concludes that without the provision of purposeful supply, consumers will use their own means in order to engage with the tourism product. Thus, the Red Zone bus tours around the earthquake damaged CBD provide suppliers with a means of managing the tourism product, while simultaneously discouraging inappropriate behavior of tourists; such as breaking through the Red Zone cordon. The Red Zone bus tours were previously incarnated as the government-established organization, CERA's Red Zone tours which allowed over 30,000 tourists and residents to view the damaged city for merely a gold coin donation. In July 2012 these tours began operating as a commercial venture. Resonating with the citywide theme of rebirth and rebuilding, these tours were designed to give people an insight into the impact of the earthquakes on Christchurch, the support the city received from other communities after the quakes, and the recovery effort (Pezzullo, 2009; Red Bus Ltd. …

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