Analysis: Travel of the future in a warming world

Heavy wind is seen along Ocean Drive in South Beach as Hurricane Irma arrives at south Florida, in Miami Beach

Heavy wind is seen along Ocean Drive in Miami Beach during Hurricane Irma. How will a warming world impact tourist hotspots? Photo credit: Reuters / Carlos Barria.

By Anders Lorenzen

In a recent blog post, the travel agents Travel Planners asked how will travel look in a warming world?

There are obviously many ways in which tourism and travel will change, and already is changing, in a warming world. But the important point is this: even if the world manages to stick to the internationally agreed pledge to limit greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to 2 degrees C of warming, tourism and travel will never be the same again.

And we don’t even have to look that far into the future. Even today, as the world has warmed roughly 1 degree C above pre-industrial levels, travel has fundamentally changed.

Extreme weather events are changing travel and tourism as we know it

The culprit? Human-induced extreme weather events happening with more frequency and intensity than ever before. It is not that we can’t go places or do things anymore, but that the predictability of success when we do is decreasing. Let’s take for instance one of the most weather-dependent tourist activities, namely skiing and snowboarding. The variability of snowfall used to be a lot less than it is today. But ever increasingly, winter seasons lacking sufficient snowfall suffer from abnormally warm temperatures making such activities impossible. And inherent in the nature of increasing variability, the complete opposite is also happening, where extreme snowfalls and freezing temperatures make the activities too dangerous and result in resorts potentially shutting down. Or you might have lots of snow falling outside in the off-season, when resorts are quiet or closed and not enough inside the peak season. This is the reality and unpredictability of climate change. And this is already inflicting huge financial costs on the industry and therefore the wider economy.

A look into the future

And if we are to look further into the future this trend will only strengthen and become more extreme. But just how extreme depends, of course, on the level we manage to reduce emissions by and what the science tells us as we continue to gather more data surrounding these critical issues.

And it is not just tourism that will suffer but also the winter sports industry itself. On the eve of the 2018 winter Olympics – the countries with the ability to host these games continue to diminish. This is a huge blow to countries previously capable of hosting who may come to discover they can no longer, inflicting large losses in potential tourist revenues. This graph published by the New York Times shows the growth in countries who might not be able to host the winter Olympics by mid-century. Similarly, bleak outlooks are in store for the summer Olympics, where rising temperatures make it impossible to compete.

Violent storms could destroy iconic tourist destinations

But extreme weather events are not just about the hot and cold weather, they also bring more violent storms that can threaten idyllic and stunning places sought out by travelers. In the autumn of 2017 several violent Category 5, Atlantic Hurricanes wreaked havoc on channel and Caribbean Islands – prime tourist destinations with economies primarily based on tourism. Such storms also strook the US tourist hotspots of Miami Beach and the wider Florida area. The science tells us that these weather events will only strengthen as the world continues to warm.

And each year rising sea levels threaten top tourist destinations such as the Maldives and other low-lying small island states, where, unfortunately, we’re now looking at when and not if nations like these will completely disappear.

This is of course only a snapshot of how a warmer world will change travel and tourism.

The reality is that travel in the future will without a doubt change. But it could also open up new opportunities, such as an increasing demand for sustainable travel and ecotourism, seeking to repair some of the damage created by a warming world and human footprints. But undoubtedly the cost of travel will increase as the world struggles to curtail rising emissions from the tourism sector.



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