Impacts of climate change on tourism (and marine recreation)
Simpson, M. (2013) Impacts of climate change on tourism (and marine recreation), MCCIP Science Review 2013, 271-283, doi:10.14465/2013.arc29.271-283
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The threat of climate change and the measures needed to both mitigate and adapt have been firmly embedded in UK legislation and policy. The Climate Change Risk Assessment (2012) undertook detailed analysis for over 100 potential impacts and provided a baseline that sets out how climate risks may manifest themselves in the absence of current and planned adaptation actions. The Marine Policy Statement (2011) provides a framework for marine planning across all UK waters and ensures the sustainable use of marine resources and strategic management of marine activities. Whilst these are welcome policy developments, there is still a great need for adaptation action within the tourism sector to address the most pressing threats and opportunities from climate change. Flooding and coastal erosion management could be devastating for tourism business but, at the same time, a warmer climate presents opportunities in terms of increased visitor numbers.
Visitor numbers to the UK are once again increasing and tourism is now worth nearly 9% of GDP. Water-based activities and contact with the natural world have seen the greatest increases in recent years. These, and other tourism activities, are strongly influenced by climate and weather.
Climate change is increasing the frequency of months when conditions are more comfortable for tourists in north-west Europe than in the Mediterranean. As a result, the tourism industry is expected to grow in the UK and especially along the coast. Warmer summers are expected to lead to an extended tourist season in the UK, especially at the coast, leading to increased revenues, new infrastructure, increased employment and enhanced water sport opportunities. Across the UK, coastal tourism and marine recreation is concentrated around different natural and man-made attractions. In southern England, there is preference for beach visits and sailing, in Wales tourists take part in adrenalin-filled water-based activities or more leisurely visits to National Parks and in Northern Ireland coastal tourism is focused around sea fishing.
However, the changing climate is already having negative impacts on the tourism industry. Relative sea level is rising resulting in increased coastal flooding, the loss of beaches and changes to other natural habitats. There has been a northward movement of important recreational angling fish species and changes in the populations of species important for wildlife watching such as harbour seals and seabirds.
Any increase in coastal flooding, erosion and extreme events would be expected to increase damage to coastal communities, tourist accommodation and transport links, whist also posing an increased safety risk to marine recreation activities. To ensure sustainable development of the sector, it is essential that policy makers understand the direct and indirect impacts of climate change on both tourism infrastructure and tourists’ perception. Changes in the marine climate have already affected the coastal environment which may affect the attractiveness to some tourists. Increasing sea temperatures are also expected to result in increases in temperature-sensitive marine pathogens that are potentially damaging to human health. A strengthening in the severity and frequency of extreme events will have an impact on ferry operations and other marine-based boating excursions.
Increased visitor numbers could overwhelm small coastal communities with implications for infrastructure, energy, water and waste management and environmental degradation. Understanding the carrying capacity of the tourist sites is also essential to manage the new flow of visitors and minimise the negative effect on the environment and the socioeconomics.
For the future sustainability of the tourism industry, it is vital that all stakeholders continue to adopt measures to mitigate and adapt to the challenges of climate change.