Around the ubiquitous image of the lava flows from the La Palma volcano, magnetic for some, terrifying for others; a melting pot of points of view spreads, swinging from the close to the alien, on the different ways of looking or where to focus that look. In addition to the huge expressions of solidarity towards the island and, above all, the hundreds of lives broken by loss and fear, many palm trees and palm trees appeal to a greater “empathy” in their land on the part of visitors, professionals and tourists that live with their tragedy.
One of the ravages that the island is already suffering as a result of the eruption resides in a significant drop in the tourism sector that, in the run-up to the high season, which begins around November, has experienced a serious recession in the last two weeks. .
“Normally, in high season, we reach around 80% hotel occupancy on La Palma”, indicates the person in charge of the Hotel de Los Llanos de Aridane. “Last September, the percentage was already around 70%, because hotels were finally recovering from the effects of the pandemic. But since the volcano erupted, the occupation has plummeted to 15-20%. It is worrying.
In the luxurious Tazacorte complex, Hotel Hacienda de Abajo, not a soul is heard except for the constant roar of Cumbre Vieja and the sweeping of sand over the cobblestones at the entrance. «Things are very weak, more and more. Suddenly, we didn’t even get half the beds occupied, ”says a reception worker. Also at the Fred Olsen sales counters they confirm a greater influx on the departure boats than on the arrival ones. “The volcano has driven them away,” they say. “But many continue to live, above all, abroad.”
In this regard, many workers in the catering, small business or banana sectors subscribe to the “need” for tourism to be reactivated urgently on the island, but they also express a certain “discomfort” at the consideration of the volcano as “A new tourist attraction.”
“I understand that the eruption of the volcano is a historical event and that you will probably never see something like this again in your life,” admits Alejandro, who works as a transporter of fruits and bananas for a transport company in Los Llanos. “But I have already been approached by various media and scientists to ask me directly if I live near the volcano and if I have lost my house.” “They tell me without asking my name first,” he says.
For her part, Cata works in a prestigious Italian restaurant in El Paso, located on top of a hill, with panoramic views of the volcano. “They ask me for selfies all the time and I understand that they want the memory, but it is a bit tiring,” he explains. “In addition, it is quite frustrating that they talk all the time about the volcano show, because I just came from talking on the phone with a friend who just lost her house,” he adds. Along these lines, Alejandro agrees that it is about “consideration”, “not about not taking pictures and that, but about being a little more discreet because of the suffering that so many families are going through.”
Both are aware that the negative impact of this phenomenon on the tourism sector lacerates the second leg on which the economy of La Palma is sustained, whose central sustenance is the banana, mortally wounded by the direct damage of the lava. But they also do not rule out that the Cumbre Vieja eruption has placed the island on the international map and that, in the long term, it may arouse greater interest in the island. “Not only does it seem phenomenal that more tourists come, but it is also more necessary than ever,” says Cata. “But it would be very good if they were interested in the island and, above all, with all this that has happened, about how we palmeros are and how we find ourselves after this horror,” he reflects.
«That they support the local product, because we will always show our best face and offer our best service, but we need it to be responsible tourism. La Palma has some peculiarities that are not known even in the national media, having seen what has been seen, so visiting it is an opportunity to become interested in the island and support ”, he adds.
Regarding the debate that arises on televisions and social networks about the suitability of building on volcanic soil in the islands, Cata cannot help but smile ironically. “These islands are volcanic,” he says. “Note that in Jedey, where it was thought that the volcano was going to come out at first, which is further south and has more risk, there are many fewer houses.” But if not, where would we live? On the leaf of a palm tree?