We all love to travel to new places irrespective of the country that we belong to. At one point of time tourism was restricted to a section of people as it involved significant amount of expenditure. Perhaps till 30 years back years back tourism was majorly related to travel for leisure purpose. But in today’s world the scenario changed to a large extent. A significant proportion of tourists travel for professional reasons too. Therefore, the combined impact along with affordability and spread of awareness through marketing and social media led to increased tourism activities throughout the world. In 2016 total number of international tourists (visiting foreign countries) in the world was to the tune of 1234 million. The same was 683.3 million in 2000. This simple statistic suggests that number of international travelers has increased by more than 80% in just a little over 15 years. Please do remember that we have not included domestic tourists of any of the countries, which are several times of that of international tourists.
We were relatively unaware of the implications of tourism and the scale of impact till a couple of decades ago. This started gaining notices of the researchers, governments, other stakeholders once the world stated envisioning global warming and the pace it was setting in. The global community is experiencing climate change and has already been recognized the same as the biggest threat to human existence. Tourism activities, spreading across large number of sectors, play a critical role in shaping global warming. Various researches suggest that tourism contributes to more than 5% of the total carbon footprint in the world and is considered as the largest contributor to climate change process. However, it’s a two way relationship. Tourism also gets affected adversely by climate to a large extent. This article brings out certain nuances of how tourism at present and in future are impacted by climate change in a non-technical manner.
What are we experiencing because of climate change compared to the past? Everyone can count those easily. Following are a few examples that are concerns for all of us in whichever part of the globe we live in.
- Global land and ocean temperature are increasing in fast pace. Polar ice caps are melting soon. It is a big threat to all cities or regions near coastal areas due to sea level rise.
- Rainfall patterns are changing affecting agriculture production to a major way
- Storms, hurricanes and typhoons causing catastrophes and disaster in every corner of the world
- Melting and receding of glaciers in our mountains
When the above are common phenomena, how do we connect these to understand the way tourism sector is going to be impacted? Climate change will impact tourism at two levels – at the destination and from operational perspective. At the destination level it will cause the following adverse impacts:
- Rising sea levels and extreme weather conditions threatens coastal or beach tourism significantly. Apart from beaches being submerged and infrastructure destroyed, it is affecting coral reefs also. Coral reefs of Philippines are already affected due to increase in ocean temperature that leads to coral bleaching and also acidification of ocean water.
- Mountain areas are experiencing lower snowfalls and also the duration of winter season has been reduced. Along with reducing the viability of some winter sports destinations, this causes lesser tourist to many of the destinations where tourists used to travel to enjoy cold weather. Increase in temperature and less precipitation have adverse impact on biodiversity and lead to more forest fires in many parts of the world. These uncertainties impact tourist arrivals to a large way. Mountain tourism will also be affected as the glaciers are disappearing in many places.
While the changes in physical conditions of destinations reduce number of tourists due to uncertainties and absence of attractions for the tourists, there are several operational hazards to face by the tourism operators:
- Vulnerable environment may lead to conflict of tourism activities with local communities due to scarcity of natural resources, for instance reduced water availability
- Extreme weather events will increase operational uncertainty, particularly in unfriendly terrains
- Services will be affected in areas exposed to extreme weather or sea-level rise.
- Any attempt to reduce carbon emissions and make activities environmental friendly will add costs to the industry, particularly from transport emissions. Apart from acceptability to such changes, it will increase price for the tourists which may impact the tourist flows.
To end this article, I just want to mention couple of my own experiences in India. There is a place called Chamba in Uttarakhand hills which was a well known tourist destination at one point of time. At present the number of tourists visit and stay in that destination has declined significantly. One of the reason is the place has become quite hot for last few years. Where people never used fan in earlier years due to its cool weather, now requires air-condition machines during summer months of the year. Most of the hotel owners are grappling with the problem of renovating rooms as there was no provision even for ceiling fans.
Hope the world community will be able to tackle or at least curb the pace of climate change so that the human society can cope of with the same and our economic activities including tourism management are ready with climate change adaptation to run their activities relative smoothly and in a predictable path. Government tourism policies also promote only sustainable tourism in practice instead of making it a paper document only.
 Tourism Statistics of India 2017