Why is it important to understand the effects of Climate Change on the Caribbean Tourism Industry? Climate change and tourism: basic notions
According to UNWTO, tourism is one of the economic activities that may be most affected by increased temperatures, tropical storms, precipitations, and droughts. The effects of climate change will bring about drastic changes that will mainly affect sun and beach tourism, Mexico's most demanded tourism modality
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) affirms that human activities are responsible for the dramatic increase of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere. Furthermore, it is resulting in ongoing anthropogenic climate change. The evidence is the increasing global average temperature records of approximately 0.76°C over the last century and a half. Moreover is expected to increase by 1.8°C to 4.0°C by the end of this century.
Evidence shows the increased carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere, the increase in the average global temperature, and the rising sea level. Furthermore, show that the climate on the planet has changed and continues to change rapidly compared to the pre-industrial era (UN, 1992; IPCC, 2007, 2013, 2014; Alonso Oroza, 2011; Flannery, 2011; López Blanch, 2011; Raynal Villaseñor, 2011; Abatzoglou, DiMento, Doughman, & Nespor, 2014; Noble et al., 2014).
The Djerba Declaration (2003) and the Davos Declaration (2007) were two international conferences recognizing the complex yet close relationship between tourism and climate change. Both panels concluded that climate change would bring a series of consequences, predicting significant short-term changes in some tourism regions of the world. Western Europe, Central Europe, Eastern Europe, the Mediterranean, the northern and southeastern United States of America, Mexico, the Caribbean, China, and small islands in the Pacific and Indian Oceans (Ivanova, 2012) are examples.
According to UNWTO-UNEP-WMO (2007), tourism is one of the economic activities that may be most affected by increased temperatures, tropical storms, precipitations, and droughts. The effects of climate change will bring about drastic changes that will mainly affect sun and beach tourism, Mexico's most demanded tourism modality (Geiger Villalpando and Ibáñez, 2012). These effects could mean the reduction of summer or winter vacation periods, which would result in a redistribution of tourists to geographical areas with more favorable climates (Fraga et al., 2010).
Sun and beach tourism, the predominant mode of tourism in much of the Caribbean, depends on a favorable climate (e.g., sunny days, the ambient temperature of approximately 22-23°C, low incidence of rainfall, others). Recent studies and research affirm that the adverse effects of climate change in tropical regions will have a decisive impact on tourist destinations' medium and long-term development.
López Blanch (2011) states that if the sea level rises by approximately one meter, 5 million km2 of the world's coastline will be under water. As a result, a quarter of the arable land would be lost. In addition, 200 million people would be left homeless, and several islands, some located in the Caribbean, would disappear and suffer from flooding.
In 2012, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) presented a report stating that: "rising sea levels, stronger storms and hurricanes, and changes in currents are causing rapid beach erosion and flooding, destroying communities, infrastructure, hotels, and coastal real estate developments" (p. 7).
Climate change may cause the modification of the natural environment that attracts tourists and endanger the health and integrity of visitors and locals. For this reason, the Caribbean is identified as one of the regions at the most significant risk, mainly due to the increase in extreme meteorological phenomena (e.g., hurricanes and tropical storms) and future sea level rise. The effects on the Caribbean coasts and seas will be diverse. However, intense beach erosion is expected due to rising sea levels and increasing storms, floods, and other natural disasters (Campos Cámara, 2011). Furthermore, the new climatic conditions will affect the tourism sector and destinations since climate determine the duration and quality of tourist seasons and directly influences the number of tourist arrivals (Palafox Muñoz and Gutiérrez Torres, 2013).
In Mexico, the perspective of climate change and its possible impacts at the macroeconomic level has been addressed in a general way. In addition, few works have documented the effects of climate change on the tourism sector (Moreno, López, and Marín, 2015).
In context, Cuevas, Zizaldra, and Loera (2014) affirm that "the current tourism model requires fundamental changes to face the new dynamics in the activity" (p. 8). So it is currently possible to register at least nine research trends in tourism: planning, development, and sustainability. This trend is one of the most interesting to address due to the future changes expected in tourist destinations caused by climate change.
- Why is it important to understand this topic?
As can be seen, many of climate change's effects will have severe repercussions on biological cycles, directly harming the human population. Moreover, it affects the ability of the poorest communities to survive. Developed countries drastically reduce their economic potential, and nations with coastlines risk disappearing (due to rising sea levels).
Climate change brings with it different effects that will become evident over time. The results will be a progressive change, giving the human species a chance to adapt to new environments. However, some species will not have sufficient capacity to adapt. Estimates indicate that if CO2 emissions were to be drastically reduced today, there would still be irreversible changes and effects on the planet.
The effects of climate change involve changes in the physical environment. The increased sea level, the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, and the disappearance of coral reefs will directly impact tourism activity in Caribbean tourist destinations.
The possible environmental impacts derived from the effects of climate change can manifest themselves in different ways, one of which is increased beach erosion. In addition, this event can worsen over time.
It is important to note that in Caribbean tourist destinations. The actions implemented have not been sufficient since they are limited to recovering part of the coastline by dredging sand without modifying or demolishing the buildings on the coastline.
Therefore, consideration should be given to making changes in hotel construction regulations and even changes in already built hotels, fine-tuning land-use planning laws, and making special regulations for karst soils, such as those in some Caribbean countries.
It is necessary to emphasize the respect we must give to the resilience of ecosystems. Either through the sustainable use of natural resources, recycling programs, the creation of eco-friendly developments, the restoration of the water system (including mangroves), or even through the expansion of the tourism offer towards alternative tourism modalities.
It is vital to guarantee that the reef and the mangrove survive. For this, the water must be kept as clean as possible, and the sea must not continue to be polluted. The reef is an ecosystem that is currently suffering much pressure due to tourism; coral colonies have disappeared at an accelerated rate in the last 40 years. The disappearance of this ecosystem could mean the end for most Caribbean tourist destinations.
However, considering the challenges that destinations will face should be a priority. Therefore, future research should create proposals for joint adaptation and mitigation measures appropriate for the study area.
Similarly, correctly diagnosing the effects of climate change on Caribbean beach tourism destinations is vital to understanding what could happen. That will guide public policy towards correct territorial planning and management.
Suppose the correct adaptation and mitigation measures are not applied in Caribbean tourist destinations. In that case, it is expected that climate change will also provoke a series of economic and social implications in addition to the environmental impact of a series of economic and social effects. The deterioration of the main natural attractions of the destinations will cause a decrease in tourism demand. The reduction in income generation will lead to massive staff cuts. Resulting in high unemployment rates and, consequently, will bring about social discontent and the emergence of new circles of highly vulnerable poverty.
For these reasons, it is necessary to expand existing studies on creating joint strategies for adaptation and mitigation against the adverse effects of climate change by placing cooperation among Caribbean countries and the international procurement of public and private funds at the forefront in order to carry out far-reaching and long-term research, thus guaranteeing the generation of knowledge for the most vulnerable communities.
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