Tourism and climate change: A reciprocal relationship

It is important to note that the climate of a destination, whether a region or a country, is one of its major attributes.

SEVERAL articles have been written about the impact of climate change on factors such as food security, longevity of life, and the environment, but very few studies have actually examined climate change and tourism and the impact one construct has on the other. This relationship between both phenomena can be considered reciprocal; tourism impacts climate change and climate change impacts tourism.

Tourism activities are known to adversely impact the natural environment, consequently causing a change in climatic conditions. This is due to infrastructure and superstructure developments, water sports and transportation among other activities. This aspect of the relationship is reasonably examined, but what is missing from the literature is the influence the change in climatic conditions has on tourism. It is believed that tourism is climate-sensitive and this effect needs to be fully understood, especially since one of its greatest impacts has to do with tourism demand. It is important to note that the climate of a destination, whether a region or a country, is one of its major attributes. It is also a critical determinant in tourists’ decision to visit the destination. For instance, a decrease in snow coverage or melting of glaciers will reduce skiing activities in countries such as Switzerland, Austria and Italy.

The dilemma for tropical countries such as Jamaica, being a tourism-dependent country, is the eventuality of the prediction that cold countries will become colder and warm countries will become warmer/hotter. This suggests that destinations in the tropics could possibly be unattractive as the extreme heat can be a deterrent for some travellers.

There is yet another prediction that cold areas will become warmer. In this case, these previously ‘cold climate’ countries will have an increase in their domestic tourism as their residents will have little desire to travel to warmer countries unless motivated by other reasons than climatic conditions. There will also be an increase in international tourism for those countries as people will be motivated to visit due to the reduced “bitter coldness”. This shift in travel could result in a subsequent decrease in tourism number in tropical destinations.

Despite the mixed predictions regarding climate change, what is obvious is that tourism-dependent countries in the tropics will be affected either way. Thus, the need for more investigation in this area as this phenomenon of climate change has an obvious impact on international tourism, which can consequently determine the fate of any destination.

This article is a call for a more comprehensive approach in assessing the dynamics of climate change and its various impacts on tourism, especially as it relates to Jamaica and the wider Caribbean.

Gaunette Sinclair-Maragh, Ph.D., Associate Professor, School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, University of Technology, Jamaica


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