- The growing international awareness about the fast pace of climate change taking place on our planet, together with the impacts that such changes are having on the natural environment, on humans and their economic activities have become evident.
- For tourism, climate change is not a remote event, but a phenomenon that already affects the sector and certain destinations in particular, mountain regions and coastal destinations among others. At the same time, the tourism sector is contributing to greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), especially through the transport of tourists.
- Climate is an essential resource for tourism, and especially for the beach, nature and winter sport tourism segments. Changing climate and weather patterns at tourist destinations and tourist generating countries can significantly affect the tourists’ comfort and their travel decisions. Changing demand patterns and tourist flows will have impacts on tourism businesses and on host communities, as well as knock off effects on related sectors, such as agriculture, handicrafts or construction.
- In small island states and developing countries, where tourism is a major economic activity, any significant reduction in tourist arrivals will have serious employment impacts and generate further poverty.
- Since the 1st International Conference on Climate Change and Tourism, convened by UNWTO in Djerba, Tunisia in 2003, a growing body of knowledge has been generated addressing the complex relationships between the tourism sector and climate change with important research activities on this subject.
- There is now a wide recognition of the urgent need for the tourism industry, national governments and international organizations to develop and implement strategies to face the changing climate conditions and to take preventive actions for future effects, as well as to mitigate tourism’s environmental impacts contributing to climate change. Furthermore, such strategies should take also into account the needs of developing countries in terms of poverty alleviation and other Millennium Development Goals.
It is often said that farmers are on the front lines dealing with global warming, their livelihoods being extraordinarily dependent on the weather. But tour operators and resort owners are not far behind.
Imagine a ski resort whose chairlifts are in the lower reaches of mountains, without decent snow. Or a scuba club whose reefs succumbed to warmer and stormier seas. Or a golfing hotel in a district where water shortages made it impossible to keep fairways green. All are real possibilities, industry experts say, and in fact, early effects are already being felt.
And so, this month, the United Nations convened a conference, "Climate Change and Tourism," for tour operators and officials from nearly 100 countries to discuss the impact of global warming on their livelihoods. "The tourism industry must adapt rapidly," the final report concluded.
"The entire tourism product will be affected - every destination has a climate-related component," Geoffrey Lipman, assistant secretary general of the UN World Tourism Organization, said by telephone from the meeting, held in Davos, Switzerland. If the climate is going to change, "which we know it will, we'd all better adapt," he said.
"Some people are going to find that they had tourism before and don't now," Lipman said. "In the Canadian Rockies it may be the reverse."
In the developed world, tour operators do not generally face a crisis, though profits will depend on successful adjustment. But along the equator, keeping the tourist industry afloat is often a matter of national survival. In much of Africa for instance, tourism is the major source of income and often the only source of foreign currency.
Yet there is a heavy cost. With the industry's reliance on cars and buses, air-conditioning and especially air travel, tourism is a major source of warming gasses. It accounts for about 5 percent of the world's carbon dioxide emissions, the Davos conference concluded. And poor countries normally do not have the money to make any eco-friendly changes.
"It's nice to talk about reducing air travel but many nation states depend on it," said Lipman, of the UN tourism organization. "Think about what happens to New Zealand and Australia. More important, what happens to poor countries - the Maldives, Seychelles and Africa - who need it because it is the only way to get tourists in."
Recognizing that tourism and climate change are intimately intertwined, Fiji combined its Ministries of the Environment and Tourism this summer.
"Tourism is the vehicle for poverty alleviation in Fiji - that's how important it has become," said Banuve Kaumaitotoya, permanent secretary of Fiji's new Ministry of Tourism and Environment, who attended the Davos conference. "Without it, our economy would collapse. So we have to plan to mitigate and adapt to climate change."
For some destinations, both warm and cold, climate change is already having an impact on tourism and planning.
In Fiji more frequent storms that scientists say are caused by warming are eroding mountains and driving dirt and fresh water into the sea. That threatens to erode pristine beaches, and endangers coral reefs which need considerable salt in the water.
Fijian planners are trying to gauge the course of such change and set new standards, like guideline for how far above the water bungalows should be built to be safe if the sea level rises. "At the moment the effect is subtle, but we don't want our reefs - our island - to disappear," Kaumaitotoya said.
At the Whistler Blackcomb Ski Resort in Canada, glaciers are receding and good snow is found higher up the mountain than 10 years ago. "We've been building lifts higher, in more snow-reliant zones to give us more stability," said Arthur De Jong, the mountain planning and environment resource manager at the resort.
Ski lifts last 25 years, De Jong said. To decide where to place new ones, the resort has run a mix of computer simulations to try to determine where the snow will be depending on varying calculations of how much the temperature might rise over 30 years.
In addition, the resort has a broader green plan. It is making energy to run the lifts from snow runoff on the mountain. Its ski village is car free. And the resort has diversified from snow and it now has a booming summer business as well...
"Adaptation is expensive and the finances are a big challenge for place like Kenya," said Judith Gona, executive director of Ecotourism Kenya, which is trying to make that country's travel industry greener.
"In recent years Kenya has become a mass tourism destination - hotels were built to hold as many people as possible. Things like air-conditioning systems are not very efficient..."
At the end of the Davos conference, the UN World Tourism Organization advised travelers to take the climate into account and "where possible to reduce their carbon footprint." But if Europeans stop flying to Fiji or Antalya, poverty will worsen, tourism officials said.