The Impact of Climate Change on Tourism: Challenges and Actions
Do you know someone who had a vacation trip that turned into a nightmare due to a severe weather event? Or who got frustrated when visiting a ski resort during a snow shortage? Or who couldn’t enjoy a trip to a lake because it was dry? Unfortunately, these situations are becoming more common due to the impact of climate change on tourism.
Tourism relies on a stable climate more than other industries. Extreme weather events have a direct impact on travelers’ experience and the tourism infrastructure, leading to economic loss for the destination and host community.
In this article, you will learn how climate change affects tourism and what industry stakeholders can do to mitigate its negative effects.
Is climate change a real thing?
Despite easy access to information and the strong connection between tourism and climate, there are people working in this industry who don’t believe in global warming and its consequences.
If you are not one of them, you can jump to the next section. If you don’t believe in global warming, please check out the following statistics:
- 2021 was the sixth-warmest on record, the surface temperature of Earth was 0,84°C warmer than the twentieth-century average. (NOAA, 2022)
- The number of snow days in the Alps will halve by 2100 if greenhouse emissions remain high. (Matiu and Hanzer, 2021)
- High temperatures exacerbated by climate change made 2022 Northern Hemisphere droughts more likely. (World Weather Attribution, 2022)
- In 2021, the global sea level set a new record high, 97 mm (3.8 inches) above 1993 levels. (Climate.gov, 2022)
- The number of disasters has increased by a factor of five over a 50-year period, driven by climate change, more extreme weather and improved reporting. (World Meteorological Organization, 2021)
- Extreme weather events such as floods, storms and drought account for more than 89% of all disaster displacement. On average, Disaster displacement affects 24.5 million people every year. (IDMC, 2021)
The data above is scary and it is an omen of the challenges the tourism industry will face in the upcoming years.
The impact of climate change on tourism is real and should be addressed by everyone in this sector.
Extreme weather events, a threat to tourism
Extreme weather events such as heat and drought, torrential rains and cyclones have devastating consequences and their impact is uneven within the travel industry.
How vulnerable to climate change a travel business, attraction or destination is, depends on its location and reliance on nature.
Destinations dependent on winter tourism are among the first to feel the impacts of climate change. Warmer temperatures result in the melting of glaciers and snowfall shortage.
Lake Tahoe, a popular winter destination in the US, famous for its ski resorts, has been suffering from California’s climate change in the past years.
The lack of snowfall in this area led to several years of record-low attendance at ski resorts, which in turn harmed restaurants, hotels and other businesses that rely on customers drawn by snow sports.
Another example is the Hailuogou glacier of Gongga Mountain in China. In the past 20 years, climate warming has caused its ice waterfall to shrink. Over time it might disappear, affecting the tourism potential of this region.
Not only cold areas are threatened by global warming. Tourism development in warm destinations such as the Caribbean, the Maldives and Costa Rica is also endangered by the rise in temperatures.
According to a WTTC report, the hurricane season in 2017 resulted in an estimated loss of 826,100 visitors to the Caribbean, compared to pre-hurricane forecasts. These visitors would have generated US$741 million and supported 11,005 jobs in the tourism industry.
Over the past 5 years, Costa Rica experienced the most severe drought in the last 75 years, the first hurricane that crossed the country’s northern region and tropical storm Nate, which caused infrastructure damages all over the country.
The situation in the Maldives is more extreme. According to multiple reports from NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey Sea, at the current rate of global warming, almost 80% of the Maldives could become uninhabitable by 2050 because of sea level rise.
Tours and attractions is one of the travel segments that will suffer the most with climate change. Especially businesses working with outdoor activities.
In the western United States, effects such as warming temperatures, increased drought, reduced snowpack, and widespread wildfires are changing the outdoor recreation landscape.
Moab, an area in Utah popular for mountain biking, is suffering from higher temperatures and dust. The warmer, drier, hazier days are already affecting how and when people choose to ride.
In Nevada, rainfall shortage is affecting whitewater rafting operators. They complain the season is getting shorter because of the drought.
How to mitigate the impact of climate change on tourism?
Unfortunately, even if the world follows through on its landmark commitments outlined in COP 21, we’ve already reached a point of no return. Significant damage has already been done enough to forecast unpredictable weather into the foreseeable future.
That being said, all the tourism industry can do is adapt to the current scenario and take action to avoid an even worst future.
Reduce the tourism carbon footprint
According to United Nations, tourism is responsible for about 5% of global greenhouse gas emissions. A vast majority of the emissions come from travelers’ transportation.
In order to change it, destinations should invest in carbon-neutral means of transportation, such as electric vehicles and bicycles. Also, travelers should be encouraged to take local trips instead of boarding a plane, and to use public transportation while in a destination.
Support small islands and developing nations
Small islands and developing nations are responsible for a fraction of the global greenhouse gas emissions, but they are among the most vulnerable to rising temperatures.
A solution is creating an international “loss and damage” funding facility to help these countries to overcome climate change. This is a solution Caribbean nations will suggest at the upcoming COP27 climate talks in Egypt.
Educate visitors and locals
Tourism has the power to change people’s mindsets. The simple act of traveling, meeting another country and connecting with locals can show travelers that climate change is a global issue.
Tour guides should use their storytelling skills to teach tourists how to become eco-conscious travelers. On the other hand, DMOs should educate local travel suppliers about the impacts of climate change on tourism.
Invest in sustainable tourism
DMOs are not only responsible for communicating and advertising a destination. They are also responsible to make better places for people to live and visit while taking care of the planet.
They have the power to implement initiatives to adapt and mitigate climate change, and also to make partnerships with environmental groups or other organizations to multiply impact.
In some cases, destination representatives can use lobbying or advocacy-type skillset to raise awareness and stimulate the implementation of green initiatives.
The impact of climate change on tourism is uneven and there are sectors within the industry more vulnerable to it than others, such as:
- Winter tourism
- Tropical destinations
- Outdoor activities
In order to mitigate the impacts, the industry should be committed to:
- Reduce greenhouse gas emissions
- Help developing nations through the creation of a “loss and damage” funding facility
- Educate visitors and locals about climate change and sustainable tourism
- Destination representatives should work to adapt and mitigate climate change
If you want to give a step further in travel sustainability and attract eco-conscious visitors to your destination, read now our article How to Become an Eco-Friendly Destination.