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Climate Change and Tourism Sustainability

Executive Summary

Climate change effects have brought about major challenges in all sectors of the economy. The sustainability of the tourists’ attraction sites and the industry as a whole is a major victim to this phenomenon because of its dependency on climatic conditions as a resource. This realization has forced stakeholders to embark on mitigation and adaptive measures. Approaches such as legislation, policies on emissions both national and international have been put with various degrees of success. There is a need therefore to study the effects of climate change on the tourism industry in order to enhance sustainability which is the purpose of this study. The tourism industry is facing a number of challenges such as changes in the composition of natural resources; Indirect climatic impacts such as reduced water availability, agricultural production, increased natural hazards, damage to infrastructure, coastal erosion resulting in loss of coral reefs, and rise in vector-borne diseases; indirect societal change impacts such as raise in poverty and political instability. Various tourism sites are covered such as coastal and island destinations, Mountain and winter tourism destinations and nature-based destinations. The report also looks at the implications of climate change to tourism industry such as a shift in tourism destinations and changes in demand, and makes recommendations such as making incentives should be put in place for the transport industry to develop, and use energy-efficient developments and encouraging the transport and other tourism stakeholders to forge mutual partnerships for the goal of reducing emissions through optimization of the value chain.

Introduction

Climate change effects have brought about major challenges in the sustainability of the tourists’ attraction sites and the industry as a whole. This is because tourism is a climate-sensitive industry and future changes in the same will affect the industry. Climate change is defined by the World-Wide Fund as ‘changes in the long-term trends in the average climate such as changes in average temperatures’ (Andrew 2008).

Records of temperatures and weather patterns for several decades in regions of the world have shown significant changes. This trend is reported at the global scale and is attributed to an accumulation of greenhouse gases in the lower atmosphere. These have been attributed to anthropogenic activities such as the burning of carbon-based fuels. Tourism on the other hand is defined by the World Tourism organization as “activities of persons traveling to and staying in places outside their usual environment for not more than one consecutive year for leisure, business or other purposes” (Andrew 2008).

Climatic Variables such as temperatures, wind, and rain among others affect the physical comfort of tourists and determines the range of activities that are to be found in a specific area. Climatic suitability differs for various types of tourism and the fulfillment of an individual tourist depends on his/her age, place of origin, and purpose of the visit among others.

Flow chart showing the relationship between tourism and Climate change
Figure 1: Flow chart showing the relationship between tourism and Climate change

Climate change relates to tourism in a two-way street model where it influences tourism and in return, tourism influences climate. This is in tourist arrival, behavior, and perceptions on one hand and energy consumption and emissions on the other. The vicious/ virtuous model indicates that other than the two-way system discussed above, some other factors and feedbacks interrelates to affect tourism and climate change (Patterson et al 2006).

Effects of climate change on tourism

Direct effects

Tourism is a vulnerable sector of the economy to climate change and will be affected in many ways. Climate is a major resource for tourism as a determiner of the suitability of locations for many tourist activities, a guide on seasonal tourism demand, and influence the cost of tourist operation costs. There will be changes in the composition of natural resources. Changes in climate patterns directly influence the wildlife populations and vegetation distribution in the park. Visitors have different preferences in wildlife they want to see and the scenery. This will affect their visits.

The enjoyment of recreational activities will also be affected by changes in the weather patterns such as temperature, precipitation, and snow depth. This will affect outdoor recreation activities such as skiing, trekking, etc, and therefore future choices on where to go for such activities and the duration of staying (Collin Michael 2005).

Indirect climatic impacts

Climate change will have impacts such as reduced water availability, agricultural production which will increase costs of tourism operations and therefore reduce tourism activities. Increased natural hazards, damage to infrastructure, coastal erosion resulting in loss of coral reefs, and rise in vector-borne diseases will also affect tourism (Beg et al. 2002). Many world heritage sites in the world have been identified by UNESCO as under threat from climate change. These include the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, Venice in Italy from sea level rise, and Glacier-Water ton International Peace Park in the USA.

Impacts of mitigation policies on tourist mobility

National and international policies that are designed to reduce Greenhouse emissions will affect tourist flows. These will raise the cost of traveling and may result in changes in patterns of traveling and therefore destinations choices. The most affected will be long-haul destinations in Southeast Asia, Australia-New Zealand and the Caribbean. This is likely to create opportunities for low carbon emissions transport modes which will become cheaper and therefore affect tourism destination choice.

Indirect societal change impacts

Climate change has the potential to cause reduced economic growth as experienced in the loss of industries such as fishing, agriculture in an island that are sinking due to a rise in sea level. This will lead to political instability and a rise in the poverty levels of some countries. This is also a threat to security. This will reduce the tourism potential for the people and future growth in tourism. Tourism is sensitive to such political and social unrests and will decline to deteriorate the already worse situation of these destinations (Andrew 2008).

Effects of tourism on climate change

Climate change is caused by a concentration of greenhouse gases in the lower atmosphere. The main greenhouse gas is carbon dioxide from anthropogenic activities. In the tourism industry, this gas is emitted in accommodations operations such as cooling, heating of rooms, washing, cooking among other activities such as restaurants, bars, discos, cable cars, and scene tours operations and ferrying of tourists from/to activity sites from their accommodations. Energy use in transport from their home areas or countries through aircraft, couches, trains, cars or ships is among other activities (World Tourism Organization 2008).

Tourism is the largest world economic sector contributing 3.6% in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2006 alone, including leisure, business and visits to relatives and friends (World Tourism Organization 2008). This involves a lot of traveling. Road, rail, and ship and air transport contribute 75% of the carbon dioxide emissions produced by tourism with air transport contributing 40% of the total. Air transport produces emissions that cause warming directly and indirectly such as condensation stripes in flying attitude, non-carbon radiative change, and of course carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxide (Sausene et al. 2005). The tourism industry is also growing and thus its contribution to GHG emissions is also increasing as shown in figure 1 below. It also contributes a higher share of emissions than it does to the global economy which makes it inefficient in sustainability and this calls for mitigation measures.

Effects on specific tourism sites

Coastal and island destinations

This comprises beaches, coral reefs among other coastal tourist attractions. These constitute a major market for many developing countries and island countries in the pacific. These destinations are highly venerable to climate change bearing in mind their seasonality. Phenomena’s such as storms and extreme climate events; coastal erosion; physical damage to infrastructure; sea-level rise; flooding; and water shortages and contamination affect these destinations. They also have a low ability to adapt to these phenomena (Gossling et al. 2007). This phenomenon might a wellbeing opportunities such as warmer winters which might be more attractive to tourists on the Mediterranean coast and warmer and longer summers in the Northern coastal areas attracting more tourists and longer staying periods.

Graph showing increasing carbon emissions
Figure 2: Graph showing increasing carbon emissions from 1800 to 2000 in different regions

Mountain and winter tourism destinations

These are popular visiting sites the world over. The snow cover and pristine mountain sceneries are a major attraction and incidentally the most vulnerable to climate change. Melting of ice on top of mountains and disappearing or species under threat, both plant and animal have been documented in these areas. This puts the international winter sports industry in Europe at risk due to its reliance on natural snow and suitable climatic conditions for snow formation. The most vulnerable places are Austria, Canada, Italy, Switzerland and France. However, opportunities exist in outdoor activities such as trekking, hiking, mountain climbing due to lengthened summer seasons and warmer winters.

Nature-based destinations

These are sites based on their natural landscape and biological diversity. Examples are wildlife migrations of the Maasai Mara in East Africa which is the eighth world wonder and Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. These are under threat from a rise in prolonged drought and sea levels and coastal erosion.

Map showing various tourists destination sites in the world
Figure 3: Map showing various tourists destination sites in the world

Industry implications

The choice of tour destination is determined by climate, natural environment and personal safety. Climate change will affect these factors significantly at the regional level. Tourists will adapt to climate change by avoiding destinations that are negatively impacted by climate change and by timing their travel to avoid unfavourable climatic conditions. These will reshape the demand patterns which in turn affect the overall tourism industry (Becken and Hay 2007).

Predicted impacts include a steady shift in popular destinations to higher latitudes and higher elevations in mountainous areas. Tourists from temperate nations such as Northern Europe, who form the bulk of visitors to tropical countries, are predicted to spend more holidays in their home countries or nearby as new and friendlier climatic conditions are expected. This means more tourism spending in temperate nations and proportional less spending in warmer countries.

Climate change brings holistic changes to the tourism environment which tourists will respond to. This means regional tourism demand will be affected by indirect environmental and social impacts as a result of global climate change. This will be on particular destinations at the regional level especially in areas with political destabilization. Global tourism will remain constant unless climate change adversely affects global economic growth which is the current situation with global recession (Colin and James 2005).

Future Impacts of climate change perceptions by both the investors and the tourists will determine their investment and travel decisions. These are shaped by the media coverage given to them. Misinformed and speculative coverage of the impacts of climate change has painted a doom picture. These are especially in areas of extreme weather, droughts and storms.

In the circumstances where people are more aware of the impacts of air travel on the environment and the implementation of mitigation policies that raise the cost of travel, tourist demands will be affected. There is also a different willingness to pay to offset the environmental impacts of travel. This will reshape the tourism demand as the costs increase.

Recommendations

Incentives should be put in place for the transport industry to develop and use energy-efficient developments. Such include encouraging the transport and other tourism stakeholders to forge mutual partnerships for the goal of reducing emissions through optimization of the value chain.

The tour companies should improve their reservation systems and global distribution systems in order to be able to put into account GHG emissions and therefore allow agents to propose soft mobility products.

Tour operators should support affected destinations in implementing adaptations and mitigating measures. They should also promote domestic and regional tourism, especially in less developed areas. Energy conservation and efficiency in the accommodation sector of the industry can be done by integrating customer comfort and sustainability, creating awareness on energy use reduction, and motivating both the employees and customers and the use of energy-efficient appliances. Development and use of renewable energy use support programs in the national and international policy and action plans such as Agenda 21, capacity building, incentives, and guidelines in the tourist accommodation sector can also be applied. Further, the incorporation of tourism sustainability guidelines in the United Nations Framework, Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and the successor to Kyoto protocol to be put in place in this year Copenhagen meeting by governments and organizations.

The same organisations should make provision of financial, technical, and training support to stakeholders in the industry in developing nations. This will equip them to respond to climate change impacts initiatives.

Encouragement of tourists to choose environmentally-friendly activities that preserve the natural environment and cultural heritage as well as reduce energy consumption such as trekking instead of driving is another recommendation. The media should acquire and report proper informational tourism and climate change issues and the environmental challenges facing our planet due to global warming instead of sensational and exaggerated material.

Conclusion

Climate change effects have brought about major challenges in the sustainability of the tourists’ attraction sites and the industry as a whole. Climate is a major resource for this industry and its change men’s major disruptions in the industry. There are many effects of climate change to the tourism industry such as indirect climatic impacts such as reduced water availability, agricultural production, increased natural hazards, damage to infrastructure, coastal erosion resulting in loss of coral reefs and rise in vector-borne diseases; indirect societal change impacts such as raise in poverty and political instability. The implications of these effects to the industry are a shift in tourism destinations and changes in demand for the same. Stakeholders should make a lot of effort to salvage the industry by making and implementing appropriate mitigation and adaptive measures.

Reference

Andrew 2008, Introductions to environment series. Holden Edition2, Publisher Routledge.

Becken and Hay, 2007, Tourism and Climate Change: Risks and Opportunities. Higham. J Tourism, recreation, and climate change

Beg et al. 2002, Linkages between climate change and sustainable development. Climate Policy, 2, 129-144.

Colin Michael Hall, James E. S. 2005, Aspects of tourism. Higham Editors Colin Michael Hall, James E. S. Higham Edition illustrated Publisher Channel View Publications,

Gossling et al., 2007, Voluntary Carbon Offsetting Schemes for Aviation: Efficiency, Credibility and Sustainable Tourism”, Vol.15, No.3.

Patterson et al. (2006, Journal of Sustainable Tourism Vol. 14, No. 4, 339-348. tourism and climate change: two-way street or viscous/virtuous circle.

Susanne Becken, John E. Hay 2007, Climate change, economies, and society. Volume 1. Multilingual Matters.

World Tourism Organization, United Nations Environment 2008, Climate change and tourism: responding to global challenges Programme Publisher UNEP/Earthprint.