Environmental, social changes to radically alter vacation habits | Environment| All topics from climate change to conservation | DW | 31.10.2009
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Environmental, social changes to radically alter vacation habits

Global warming sounds like a godsend to tourists dreaming of baking on a faraway beach, but the effects of climate change could have a huge impact on the way we vacation over the next 20 years.

Two children play on the beach at Germany's east coast

Traditionally cooler destinations may become holiday hot spots

Climate change will drastically change the destinations that people are willing to visit and as a result of factors such as high energy costs, the impact of travel and increasing water scarcity, the tourism industry as we know it may have to radically adapt to survive, according to the Tourism 2023 report by the sustainability think-tank Forum for the Future.

Warmer temperatures in northern Europe may provide positive alternatives to long-haul tourism. But at the same time, Europe will also experience more extreme weather events like hurricanes, changing precipitation patterns and more forest fires in places like the Mediterranean. That will change vacation opportunities there, said Stephanie Draper, the director of Forum for the Future and co-author of the Tourism 2023 report.

"There are a few things we can really be sure about: climate change, water scarcity and the increase in cost of resources are all things which are going to have a serious impact on the way we go on holiday in the future," Draper told Deutsche Welle.

The report also paints a bleak picture for those holidaymakers who head to warm countries where swimming pools and ice-cold drinks provide cool comfort when the blazing sun gets to be too much.

"If 25 percent of the world is exposed to water scarcity, which is the current prediction, that puts a lot of pressure on the holiday product," Draper said.

Positive change

The Tourism 2023 report is not all doom and gloom, however.

It also proposes answers to the challenges climates changes pose the tourism industry. It is also hoped that some of the effects of that change will force tourists to rethink their holiday requirements and destinations, and in turn create a better understanding of the impact that their travel arrangements and vacations have on the places they visit.

"Some places which have been too cold to holiday in during the summer will be warmer so there will be opportunities to holiday more locally," Draper said. "This will cut down on the impact travel has."

Two young boys play in a pool in the back garden

Long-haul flights may be replaced by hoildays at home

Individuals need to be aware of their vacations' impact on the environment and the local community, she added.

"Our approach is to think about what you want to get out of a holiday and not automatically book a fortnight-long, long-haul holiday without thinking about local options and overland travel, and then maybe take a long-haul holiday every three years," she said.

Staying closer to home is one way individuals can lower their carbon footprint, but they can also offset the greenhouse gasses they do create when travelling, said Silvia Hendriks of Travel Oke, an independent sustainable tourism consultancy.

"Tourists can compensate for CO2 emissions by paying a small amount to organizations like Greenseat, and limit the amount of waste they produce in destinations," she said.

Hendriks also suggested tourists take other smaller steps, like limiting the use of air-conditioners and lights, not changing towels every day, frequenting local restaurants and asking for locally produced organic food.

Adapting to environmental reality

What is certain is that the tourism industry is going to have to make changes to the way it operates in this new reality, something Forum for the Future's report addresses in four possible scenarios.

An LTU airways board for a flight to the North Pole

Changing trends could send tourists to unusual places

The "Boom and Bust" model envisages a world in which new technologies make green travel easier while the "Divided Disquiet" vision where political instability makes many world destinations unpalatable, except for doomsday tourism, where people flock to see rapidly disappearing natural resources.

"Price and Privilege" looks at a world where rising fuel and energy costs make long-distance travel too expensive for most people, while "Carbon Clampdown" imagines a tourism market where legislative measures such as personal carbon credits combine with greater education on the risks associated with climate change and lead to reduced demand for international travel.

"Some of them are dependent on how regulation develops and how technology advances," Draper said.

Economic survival starts now

How the tourism industry approaches these models and adapts to forecasted climatic changes depends on how it emerges from the current global economic crisis. Tourism has been hit hard by the downturn and it remains to be seen how the industry will approach the challenge and costs of restructuring its business.

Draper said she believes the economic survival of the tourism industry really depends on what it does now.

Rows of beach chairs line a strip of beach on Phi Phi Island, Thailand

Time will tell if the tourism industry adapts and survives

"We've found that taking a more sustainable approach is the best way to respond to the changes in the industry," she said.

Hendriks said she believes that the present economic factors can actually have a positive effect on sustainable tourism in the future.

"Consumer interest in environmental issues remains high during this economic crisis period," said Hendriks. "Moreover, the individual organizations can reduce their operational costs and improve their corporate image, which is an essential marketing tool in these times of crisis."

Price, she added, is a major concern, but not the only one holiday-makers consider.

"When comparison with similar tourism products does not show a negative price difference, but it does show better quality and a corporate image that cares for the environment ... the tourists' holiday choice becomes very easy," she said. "The tourist chooses to go green."

Author: Nick Amies

Editor: Sean Sinico

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