Climate change: winners and losers in tourism

The May issue of Yale Global online, a publication of the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization has an interesting article entitled “Climate Change and Tourism’s Winners and Losers”. The report details how climate change will bring about “a series of long-term of adjustments (that) is bound to leave some winners and losers” around the world.

It has some startling conclusions beginning with “tourism industries will improve in the countries of the northern hemisphere that have contributed the most carbon emissions into the atmosphere leading to climate change. And the tourism industry of countries throughout the southern hemisphere, which have contributed relatively little by way of carbon emissions, will suffer”.

The article states that the industry has been one of the most resilient in the globalization era and notes that besides external shocks such as 9/11 and SARS “the travel behavior of many consumers has changed considerably, and some key factors characterizing this change include late bookings, increased price-consciousness, shorter holiday trips, the desire for more flexibility and individuality, and the trend towards special and theme holidays. On the supply side, notable changes include the major success of the low-cost carriers and new distribution channels such as the internet”. It goes on to note that the industry is in for more turbulent times.

But it is the forecast (with a time horizon of 2030) of winners and losers that is of particular interest. “Canada, New Zealand and the USA are the only three further countries outside Europe whose tourist industries will be on the winning side. The reverse conclusion is that the tourism sector in all countries surveyed in Africa, Latin America and Asia will more or less suffer from climate change in the next few decades”. The Caribbean , among others, is slated for decline.

The analysis concludes by noting that in “plain language, if prices for air trips increase, for example, because of their inclusion in emissions trading and if – as a result of that – fewer people travel to faraway destinations, the negative economic impact would be perceptible, especially in the poor countries. This means that measures taken by industrialized countries to reduce their own greenhouse gas emissions and thus their contribution to climate change can cause negative economic effects in other countries”.

The author of the report does provide some suggestions that could mitigate the economic consequences for those on the losing side. These include new technologies “to substantially increase the energy efficiency of the transportation sector so that its impact on the earth’s climate can be reduced and traveling will not become a luxury good” and “direct transfer payments to the countries most affected by climate change”. In other words, high transportation costs together with climate change is shaping up to be a witches’ brew for tourism in areas that are less able to withstand those negatives.

In the end human ingenuity may well effect change that forestalls some of the gloom in the forecast, a fact the author barely manages to acknowledge.

Published by

Vijay Dandapani

Co-founder and president of a New York based hotel company for 24 years. Grew the firm to five hotels in Manhattan and also developed a greenfield project at MacArthur airport, New York. Speaker at numerous prestigious forums including Economy Hotels World Asia, Lodging Conference, NYU, Columbia University Real Estate Roundtable, Baruch College's Zicklin School and ALIS. President and ceo of New York City Hotel Association since January 2017.