Climate Change Threatens Global Tourism Industry, Says Trade Group

Climate Change Threatens Global Tourism Industry, Says Trade Group

Climate change poses a growing risk to the tourism industry, the tourists themselves, and the economies that rely on their spending, according to an international trade group.

As World Tourism Organization Secretary-General Francesco Frangialli at the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) meeting in Beijing on Nov. 1: "Climate change will constitute an increasing risk for tourism operations in many destinations. With many tourism activities heavily dependent on the climate and insurance policies increasingly affected by natural hazards, accurate weather information and the forecasting of extreme climatic events are becoming ever more important for tourism businesses," he said.

To combat this threat, more research is needed, and also closer co-ordination between governments and the private sector to ensure that possible effects are factored into tourism policies and development and management plans.

"Whatever the environmental outcome, tourism cannot be seen in isolation," Frangialli stressed. "Major changes in the pattern of tourism demand will lead to wider impacts on many areas of economic and social policy," such as housing, transport and social infrastructure. Knock-on effects could hit dependent suppliers from farmers to handicraft makers.

Beach destinations, winter sports resorts, and all outdoor tourism activities are all "highly dependent on favorable climate conditions" on a daily basis, the Secretary-General underscored at the conference.

But extreme weather conditions, such as hurricanes and floods, threaten the health and safety of tourists and local populations alike and can destroy the basic infrastructure of a destination. When this happens, the images alone can dissuade potential tourists from traveling, with the consequent downturn in visitor numbers hitting the local economy.

Climate change can also transform the natural environment that attracts tourists in the first place -- eroding coastlines, damaging coral reefs and other sensitive ecosystems, or limiting snowfall in mountainous regions -- as well as affecting basic services like water supplies, especially during periods of peak demand.

"In mountain regions, it seems very probable that winter demand will be affected. The season will shorten, opportunities for beginners to learn the sports will diminish, and demand for high altitude resorts will increase which in turn could raise environmental pressures and cause further damage."

Seaside resorts could also be affected as potential visitors stayed away from beaches where it became too hot for comfort in summer. Tourists heading instead to cooler, higher altitudes could put further environmental pressure on mountainous regions.

On the other hand, the alteration in weather patterns could provide new opportunities for the tourism industry, particularly by increasing the number of visits in previously off peak months.

WTO has undertaken a wide range of research, capacity building and technical cooperation activities aimed at promoting the sustainable development of tourism and environmental conservation in coastal zones, Small Island Developing States (SIDS), mountain regions, ecotourism destinations and other areas particularly sensitive to changing climatic conditions.

A major step was the organizing of the First International Conference on Climate Change and Tourism, held in April 2003 in Djerba, Tunisia, from which the final Djerba Declaration on Climate Change and Tourism provides a basic reference and framework for action by stakeholders in the tourism industry. Since then, WTO has contributed to various meetings and seminars with technical presentations on climate change and tourism issues.

Currently, WTO is preparing a list of proposals to help tourism adapt to climate change for submitting to the Global Environmental Facility. A series of pilot projects are included aimed at helping Small Island Developing States to develop adaptation policies and techniques for protecting beach destinations and coastal ecosystems.