Climate Change and Alpine Tourism

Climate change and tourism is generally an area with many knowledge gaps, yet Alpine tourism is well studied.

Whether the Alps for a skiing holiday or Greece for a mid-summer break, climate is one of the key drivers of tourism and shapes the industry’s success. Tourism is a climate-dependent industry and therefore even small climatic changes, such as 0.25oc warming, could lead to a shift in the environmental conditions at key tourist locations. Despite accounting for 9.1% of GDP worldwide, the impacts of climate change on tourism is often overlooked in literature1. This article outlines some of the potential impacts of climate change on tourism and highlights the importance of studying this highly climate-sensitive sector.

The Climate Change and Tourism System:

To fully comprehend potential climate change impacts, we should also consider the notion of a tourism system. The tourism system consists of a multitude of elements, shown in Figure 1. There are 3 key elements to this system. The first highlights the tourists reasons for travel, second concerns tourist operators and third the destinations. A key limitation in most literature is that research typically focuses on one aspect of the tourism system, rather than exploring the full structure in a single piece of research2. If climate change affects the destination choice of tourists in the ‘tourism and source markets’ aspect of the system, it will ultimately have a knock-on effect on other parts of the system, such as the destination image in the ‘destinations’ part of the system. It is also important to consider that climate change is only one of many potential macro-scale drivers of tourism change, as shown in Figure 1. Drivers of tourism will interact with one another, but there has been limited research into how reactions may occur and the subsequent effects on tourism.

Figure 1. The 4 broad pathways how climate change could affect international tourism.

Despite these knowledge gaps in research, the potential impacts of climate change to some areas of the tourism industry have been well studied. For example, considerable attention has been paid to winter sports tourism. Over the past 120 years we have seen a gradual temperature increase over time, where the change has been particularly clear in high mountain regions.

In current conditions, about 85% of snow is reliable in ski resorts. However:

  • At 1oc warming – 75% of snow will be reliable
  • At 2oc warming – 65% will be reliable
  • At 4oc warming – only 30% will be reliable

Tourism is fundamental to the Alpine economy, with 60-80 million tourists visiting annually, providing about 10% of all jobs in the region. Specifically in the Eastern Alps, alpine glaciers lost 50% of their 1850 value by 2000 and there is predicted warming of 0.3oc to 0.45oc from present onwards3. This is predicted to lead to snow reduction of 50% by 2100 at mid-elevation sites, and 35% at higher elevation sites4. Relating back to Figure 1, it is not just long term climate climate that will impact tourism in mountainous regions. Natural hazards such as the 2003 heatwave can also affect tourism. This event led to Alpine glacial loss 3 times above the 1980-2000 average. Although this was a summer heatwave, such events can also occur in winter. Due to their attractiveness as warm spells in usually cold environments, they are usually ignored by most people as an event caused by climate change.

A final aspect to consider is that the industry is vulnerable, but this vulnerability is not evenly distributed and neither is resilience. The tourism industry is more vulnerable to climate change than the whole economy, and typically lower income countries are more vulnerable and less resilient5. I found this to be particularly interesting because I knew that the industry was vulnerable to climate change, but not to the extent of all other sectors of the world economy, combined.

As my second blog post, I primarily wanted to write down some interesting research that I came across when reading about climate change and tourism in my free time. Thank you for reading this post, I hope it was some what informative to you!

References –

  1. Nadal-Rosselló J, 2014. How to evaluate the effects of climate change on tourism. Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0261517713002045. Accessed on: 24/10/2020.
  2. Scott, D. et al, 2012. International tourism and climate change. Available at: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/wcc.165?saml_referrer. Accessed on: 24/10/2020.
  3. Keiler, M. et al, 2010. Climate change and geomorphological hazards in the Eastern European Alps. Available at: https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rsta.2010.0047. Accessed on: 25/10/2020.
  4. Gobiet, A. et a., 2013. 21st century climate change in the European Alps – a review. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23953405/. Accessed on: 25/10/2020.
  5. Dogru, T and Suess, C, 2019. Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0261517718303145. Accessed on: 25/10/2020.

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