The Swiss slopes beckon when Canberra is burning under the summer sun. But what if you go to the mountains only to discover that there is not enough snow to ski! Or go to Fiji and find that its beautiful reefs have vanished. No, this is not a scene from a sci-fi movie; it is a real danger that is threatening to become a reality in a not too distant future. The culprit is that ubiquitous phrase ‘climate change’, which has been tossed around so frequently that it does not perhaps ring the alarm bells as actively as it should.
So what has tourism got to do with climate change? Plenty, as it happens. Tourism is one sector which is highly climate dependent. The time of travel, choice of destination and even the mode of transport depend largely on climate. You would not, for instance, find many people rushing to pack their bags for Thailand during the monsoons or India during summer.
Tourism – The victim of climate change
Global warming is a grim reality of our times. Among other consequences, it is affecting the tourism industry:
- Melting of snow and glaciers is causing sea-levels to rise, particularly affecting mountains and skiing destinations. For instance, Swiss economy depends largely on winter tourism; however, global warming has caused diminishing snow covers affecting the influx of tourists.
- Rise in sea levels is threatening to submerge islands and affecting coastal areas and regions, which depend on tourism for their economy. For example, Fiji is a poor country heavily dependent on the wealth generated by tourism; but frequent storms causing erosion are damaging the beautiful beaches and the coral reefs. Maldives and the Pacific islands are also being affected by rising sea-levels and sea acidification which is affecting the very marine attractions that draw tourists.
- Scarcity of water is causing problems for locals and tourists (imagine trying to attract customers to a resort where water supply is scarce). This is the process also leads to diminishing greenery affecting the ecosystem.
- Floods and droughts are extreme reactions caused by changing climatic conditions. Needless to say tourists will not visit such places.
Tourism – The other side of the story
The other side of the story is that tourism, while it affects climate change, also contributes to it. Tourism and travel contribute to roughly around 5 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions. About 75 per cent of carbon dioxide emissions by the tourism sector are caused by the transport used by tourists while air travel itself contributes to around 40 per cent. Tourism can cause depletion of natural resources like water, land and energy; for example, golf course maintenance uses large volumes of water. Tourists also cause pollution in the form of noise, littering and air and chemical emissions.
Tourism can help
The revenues generated by tourism can be used in conservation projects. Tourism can draw attention to endangered biodiversity spots and species. Eco-tourism helps to preserve the environment and also benefits local communities.
- The average Canadian household used 326 litres of water per day; a village of 700 in a developing country uses an average of 500 litres of water per month; a luxury hotel room guest uses 1800 litres of water per person per night!
- By 2050 climate change could have directly led to the extinction of 30 per cent of species, the death of 90 per cent of coral reefs and the loss of half the Amazon rainforest.
- Since 1970 a third of the natural world has been destroyed by human activity.
- One acre of trees absorbs 2.6 tonnes of CO2 per year.
What we can do
- Small steps like turning off lights when leaving the room; shutting down the computer when not in use; putting on a sweater instead of turning up the thermostat etc. would help conserve energy.
- Using cloth instead of plastic bags would help prevent litter.
- Taking shorter or fewer showers would help save water.
- Decreasing air travel frequency whenever and wherever possible would help conserve natural fuel reserve in the long run.
We should also support and encourage responsible tour operators and organisations in order to make a difference on a larger level.
An Asian saying goes like this: “Tourism is like fire — you can cook your dinner on it, but if you are not careful it will burn your house down.” Let us help to keep the hearth warm rather than burn the house down.