In 2015, off East Coast beaches from Virginia to Florida, unwitting tourists were attacked as they floated on surfboards at dusk, the prime feeding time for sharks.
In the same year, in separate incidents at Yellowstone National Park, two tourists who disregarded verbal and printed warnings were seriously gored by bison when they walked up to the animals and turned around to pose for selfies.
This year’s summer tourism season started on a somber note when travelers either disregarded or were unaware of natural dangers in the areas they visited. Last month at Yellowstone, a tourist from Oregon died when he ignored signs, walked off a boardwalk and fell through fragile crust into a scalding hot spring. And the world shared a universal gasp June 14 when a 2-year-old Nebraska boy — wading in inches of water at the Walt Disney World Grand Floridian resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. — was snatched by an alligator and killed.
Savvy travelers research destinations before a trip, making themselves generally aware of high crime areas to avoid, currency exchange rates to remember, regional corruption issues to be familiar with, and other tourism hazards. But many long-planned trips are disrupted or turn tragic when tourists fail to take into consideration natural dangers that the locals have learned to avoid.
“There are so many potential dangers. If you said ‘What if?’ about all of them, you’d never have time to go on vacation,” said Tracy Edwards, a managing director of travel sales for AAA Travel Agency. “Are you going to a place that
has flooding? A ski resort with avalanche areas? Hiking where there are bears? If you go to a swimming pool, there are drowning opportunities.”
AAA travel packages include directions, maps, lists of cultural activities and regional contacts, but Edwards said the traveler advocate organization does not provide literature outlining inherent natural dangers.
“We’re in the travel business. It’s our bread and butter,” he said. “We’re not sending people on vacation to be disappointed. We want to help all we can, but it’s really up to the individual to be vigilant when they travel and use common sense.”
Edwards recommends that international travelers visit the website travel.state.gov several times a day for political and news updates from the U.S. government.
Another vital link for travelers, www.weather.com
, provides valuable information to be considered before driving across a desert in summer or over mountains in winter or embarking on a spur-of-the-moment boat trip.
Paul Busang, owner of Pittsburgh-based Gulliver’s Travels, said the hotel, resort, park or other destination should bear primary responsibility for warning guests about natural dangers through signs, literature and verbal advice.
“They’re there. They have a knowledge of the goings-on and can help keep their guests out of trouble,” he said, “but it’s a shared responsibility. Everyone involved in the trip should be involved in maintaining the tourist’s safety. Especially the tourist himself.”
Busang said he cautions Florida travelers to stay away from the water’s edge and tells tourists heading to Vancouver, British Columbia, to obey the signs that say, “Don’t feed the bears.”
“We try to do the right thing,” he said. “Last year we told people who wanted to go to Caribbean islands that Zika was there, and some didn’t book the trip. But I felt it was our responsibility to let them know.”
Pennsylvania’s award-winning state park system offers free access to 221 diverse habitats. Despite the remote location of some parks, Class IV rapids, sheer cliff faces, black bears, copperheads and timber rattlesnakes, the most reported danger at the parks is “people not being cognizant of their footwear,” said Terry Brady, spokesman for the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, which runs the state park system.
“I see the weekly reports,” he said. “The most common injury is falls ... attributed to having on the wrong footwear. Park rangers had to go out to tell people hiking on a rugged trail in the winter that it’s not wise to do it in flip-flops. People need to be a little more in tune with their environment.”
And, he said, perhaps they need to be more willing to adapt to the environment and customs of their travel destinations.
“There are inherent dangers everywhere. Our parks go out of their way to tell people what they’re getting into through signs, handouts, talking with visitors,” Brady said. “But they still feed the animals, conditioning them not be afraid of people. They reach out to boulders from kayaks and get bitten by snakes. They have picnics in poison ivy. I’d recommend that everyone read a little about the areas they’re traveling.”
Most travelogues are heavy on the points of interest but offer few cautions. Lonely Planet, the world’s largest travel guide publisher, includes notes on dangerous wildlife and other natural hazards.