Tourism And The Impacts Of Climate Change

Whilst there has been great discussion on the possible impacts of climate change on human settlement, it is had to ignore the effect that it may have on the tourism industry. Many countries rely on tourism as a major contributor to their economy, so it is critical for us to understand what the possible effects may be. These effects will not only be felt by coastal and island tourism operators, but also others who may rely on certain types of climates for their tourism business. This article will look at what the possible impacts may be, how to adapt to or mitigate the impacts and what should be done to minimise the financial and social effects on communities, countries and governments.

What Is Climate And What Is Weather?

When discussing climate change, or any issues that surround the topic of climate, it is important to be able to differentiate between climate and weather. The easiest way in which to explain this would be that climate is the historical weather data of a certain location, usually going back decades. So when we gather climate data, it is all historical and we can make predictions about what may happen in the future. Weather on the other hand is what you get on a day to day basis, and is only used to describe the current situation. The most common explanation that scientists will use is 'climate is what you expect, weather is what you get' 1).

How Does Climate And Climate Change Impact Tourist Numbers

The weather is a major factor when it comes to most areas of tourism. There is beach tourism, snow tourism, island tourism, the list goes on. The one common factor when it comes to all of these things is climate. Shifts in world weather patterns have started to affect some of these areas, and it is predicted that the effects of climate change will only get more unpredictable 2). So what does this mean for these areas? Climate change is predicted to have impacts on not only global climates, but will also cause the melting of ice caps resulting in rises in net sea level. This means that tourism operators that rely on the beaches remaining in their current state will be faced with beaches that disappear. The same impact can also happen to tropical islands, as most of these islands are low lying and rising sea levels can potentially have a devastating effect. It is also important to note that tourism is the biggest or only economic income that inhabitants rely on 3). Tourism operators who rely on such things as snow may also be affected. Rising average temperatures may reduce snowfall and also reduce the length of the ski seasons, thus resulting in lower net revenues. There would be very few tourist areas and operators who are not impacted in some way by climate change.


The Maldives4)

How To Predict Changes

Whilst there has been a lot of time and effort putting into trying to calculate the predicted impacts of climate change, we have seen that the science is not always completely correct. Scientists predict that there will be an increase in adverse weather events in the future, along with rises in sea levels, but we can still only predict what we think may happen by looking back at what has happened previously 5). This is important when trying to make long term plans for areas such as tourism. Adaptation strategies must be put in place, but we still do not know what the exact impacts will be. Some ecosystems can adapt and react to change better than others, whilst other systems walk a tight edge and can disappear at the slightest change, for example coral reefs 6). It is important that we take a balanced view of the possible impacts of climate change, as tourism industries and governments cannot afford to take too little or too much action.


Coronet Peak snowfields, New Zealand7)

Adaptation Strategies

When trying to decide what actions need to be taken, certain questions first need to be asked, such as:

__Do We Need To Act At All?__

There may be some areas of tourism that will only be affected by climate change minimally, if at all, such as large cities. Many would argue that any change in climate would stop them from going to say New York or London. There could be other lower lying cities however such as Amsterdam who may feel the impacts due to sea level rise. So the first question would be as to the extent of the impact of climate change on the particular area.

__What Will The Impacts Potentially Be?__

The next step would be to try and calculate the impacts. This can be done in various ways, such as making prediction, running models or simply surveying the current tourists about what their intentions in the future may be if conditions change. Obtaining reasonable and accurate estimates can help decision makers evaluate how much money would need to be spent on each area, and can give them a reasonable time frame in which to do so.

__Can Closing One Door Open Another?__

Not all of the impacts of climate change may be negative. Changing weather patterns can open up new opportunities in existing areas or create completely new ones. For example an increase in temperature may result in the ski season being shorter in snow areas during the winter, but this may increase the amount of people taking advantage of the warmer weather and coming to area to do hiking and camping in the summer. Areas that were considered too cold to be visited by tourists may now seem more attractive and open up whole new tourism zones. Rising sea levels in some areas may erode beaches however higher rainfall may mean that forests blossom, opening up new avenues. It is important that decision makers explore the possible new opportunities that may be created.


Once these questions have been answered, the options for adaptation need to be explored. There may be extreme cases where no adaptation is possible and that local populations will need to be evacuated, such as low lying Pacific and Indian Ocean islands. Before such drastic actions are taken, there can be a number of measures that can be implemented. These can be hard measures, such as engineering techniques in order to built sea walls and raising of buildings, or soft measures such as coastal management, replenishing reefs and sea grasses 8). Beach tourism areas may need to rethink their strategies and promote water sports such as boating, skiing and kayaking as an alternative to swimming, whilst operators in snow fields can use hard measures such as snow making machines, or try to promote summer activities. There is no silver bullet solution to these problems, and adaptation strategies are also usually the best mitigation strategies.


Bondi Beach, Sydney, Australia9)


It is easy to talk about adaptation and implementing change on paper, however unfortunately there are a great deal of barriers that tourism operators may face. There are still governments in power around the world who are at odds with scientists regarding climate change, and also many differences in opinions between local governments. Much of the scientific data regarding climate change is wide and generalised, making it difficult and expensive to predict changes that may happen at a local or regional level. The tourism industry itself can also struggle to make its voice heard, as in many countries there is no single agency that can lobby governments and stakeholders 10).


There seems to be little doubt that the climate is changing. We can argue whether it is us as humans that are changing it, or whether it is a natural cycle all we like, the bottom line remains the same. Governments and other decision makers need to stop trying to play the blame game and concentrate on policies which will ensure that we can still enjoy similar levels of lifestyles in the future. There is no argument however that tourism is mainly climate based, and most areas rely on seasonality for their peak tourism seasons. Whilst the numbers aren't always one hundred percent, climate forecasting models can give is a fair idea of what to expect in the future, and these studies should be taken into consideration when trying to calculate the correct path that should be taken. There can also be some positive impacts of climate change on tourism, but it appears that the negatives look to outweigh the positives, especially for beach and island tourism operators. The later that these decisions are made, the more it will cost so we need governments that are willing to take long term action, however unfortunately most governments will only try and take actions that will benefit them in the short term in order to get re elected into office.

Travel | Environment

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