Devastating volcano eruption can be used to lure tourists to Canaries, says tourism minister

Photograph: Borja Suarez/Reuters

Spain’s tourism minister has been accused of insensitivity after suggesting a devastating and ongoing volcanic eruption on the Canary island of La Palma could be used as an “attraction” to lure visitors to the archipelago.

About 5,000 people have been evacuated and dozens of homes destroyed after the eruption in the Cumbre Vieja mountain range, one of the most active volcanic regions in the islands.

Speaking on Monday morning, Reyes Maroto said the government wanted to reassure tourists already on La Palma – or headed there – that the island was still safe despite the eruption, which began on Sunday afternoon.

“The most important thing right now is reassuring tourists who have been affected, and also those who may be travelling to the island today or during the course of the week,” she told Canal Sur radio.

“We’re providing information so that tourists can travel to the island and witness something undoubtedly unprecedented for themselves. That information will let tourists know that the island is open and also whether their hotel has been affected so they can stay elsewhere and enjoy their holidays.

“We can also make the most of this as an attraction so that a lot of tourists who want to enjoy what nature has brought to La Palma can do so in the coming weeks and months.”

Maroto said the state tourism institute, Turespaña, and the countries’ embassies “would provide all the necessary information so that the island can become an attraction for those tourists who want to see this wonderful natural spectacle in a prudent manner, because what we are worried about right now is the safety of citizens and tourists”.

Asked if La Palma could become a “volcano tourism” destination, the minister said the island “has a volcanic part to its tourist offer, and that could be an attraction we can make the most of”.

Maroto’s political opponents were quick to seize on her comments. “Minister, this is totally inappropriate!!!” said Agustín Almodóbar, the tourism spokesman for the conservative People’s party (PP). “There are people who are losing their homes!!!”

Almodóbar’s colleague, the PP’s secretary general, Teodoro García Egea, tweeted: “Can someone confirm that the minister said this while hundreds of people are losing everything they have?”

According to the Spanish news agency Europa Press, about 100 houses have been destroyed as a result of the eruption, which has not so far caused any injuries.

The volcano previously erupted in 1971, killing one man as he took photographs near the lava flows.

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