Disaster Risk Management

Motivating tourism to protect destinations: the gap between extreme weather threats and preparedness

Despite scientific warnings that climate change will impact tourism, the private sector in many cases still appears unprepared for an increase in extreme weather events, the consequences of which will impact on tourism’s productivity and community resilience. Our contributing writer for this special feature is Christopher Warren, Director of the International Centre for Responsible Tourism – Australia, who provides insights into the barriers and challenges to Risk Management and Preparedness, and recommends motivation strategies to incentivise action.DISASTER 1The Context

Tourism destinations in some global ‘hot spots’ are being challenged by the scale of powerful extreme weather events. Regions like the Caribbean, South Pacific and Australia have historically faced hurricanes, cyclones, flooding and bush fires; these events are not new. However, the scale and frequency of recent extreme weather events is a direct result of climate change, according to the Climate Commission, which suggests that original predictions of weather changes may have been conservative.

Despite scientific warnings that climate change will impact tourism, the private sector in many cases still appears unprepared for an increase in extreme weather events as demonstrated by recent fires in Tasmania (lack of evacuation planning) and Cyclone Evan which hit Samoa (lack of advanced warnings and coordination). The consequences of a lack of preparedness and protection will impact on tourism’s productivity and community resilience. On a wider scale this will also put pressure on UNWTO’s expectations that tourism will make a positive contribution to achieving the Millennium Development Goals, as explained below.

It is argued here that impact from extreme climate events has made managing risk a prerequisite to business survival and a critical responsible tourism duty of care for visitors. And that to encourage tourism providers to take action we need to apply parallel motivations which deliver better prevention and preparedness.

DISASTER 4Why is Risk Management not motivating?

While risk management may not be one of the most initially fascinating and stimulating aspects of tourism, it is increasingly vital for resilience and responsible care of visitors. The very fact that the subject has such a low level of motivation is in itself a key to the wider problems we face in regards to acceptance and action on climate change.

Risk management is defined by UNEP as “the probability of harmful consequences, or expected losses (deaths, injuries, property, livelihoods, economic activity disrupted or environment damaged) resulting from interactions between natural or human induced hazards and vulnerable conditions,”1 It is a very broad subject. To be of value this article focuses on extreme weather events, because they appear to be a growing concern, and offers positive recommendations.

SONY DSCFrom my research there are many barriers and different contexts which prevent tourism providers taking care of their business, their guests and importantly, their destination. As an example, Table 1 highlights the Barriers and Contexts facing tourism providers in Australia, a country which accepts that bush fires are a natural phenomenon, which might constitute why tourism providers take the psychological position of denial to justify inaction.

In most cases lack of action by tourism providers is accepted because the majority of tourism complies with a similar level of denial. Lack of action and involvement by local tourism organisations only helps to make the situation ‘normal’ and so socially acceptable.


Our task is therefore to make risk management planning in tourism ‘normal’ by integrating its methods into business performance, focusing mainly on the positive commercial benefits rather than tackling head on the barriers and contexts. The complexity of barriers and context suggests that there will not be a ‘one size fits all’ approach. It also indicates that role models can be an important device to encourage social change.

Before discussing recommendations, it is important to recognise the scale of the challenge.

The Economic Challenges                                                                                                             Tourism as a global industry is growing rapidly despite recession in the Euro Zone. Last year UNWTO reported a 4% increase in passenger arrivals to 1.035 billion. The Asia Pacific region recorded one of the strongest increases with a 7% increase, the South East Asia segment rose 9% and spectacular growth was recorded in Cambodia (24%) and Myanmar (43%). These figures demonstrate the growing economic importance of tourism to less developed countries. This demonstration adds weight to the UNWTO’s claim that tourism is a serious economic pillar to growth and achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

Even in a prosperous country like Australia tourism in regional areas accounts for 46% of total national tourism expenditure and subsequently provides more direct employment than agriculture, forestry and fishing combined. Growing the visitor economy in rural areas is seen as an economic priority.

Set against this economic growth trajectory are the impacts from extreme weather events which destroy infrastructure and damage the tourism economy. These factors might be made worse because sustainable tourism seeks to utilise the benefits of the visitor economy to build community resilience. This is achieved by encouraging wide economic linkage between tourism providers and indirect businesses.

When extreme weather events damage the natural environment reducing its attractiveness, making buildings unsafe and breaking communications, the economic knock-on effect grows. For example local farmers are encouraged to supply tourism. Thus the impact of extreme weather events damage tourism and its source of food which are encouraged to be interdependent, as demonstrated recently in Samoa. In other words, the more we grow tourism and the better we interlink it with the local community, the more economically vulnerable communities are to disasters.

Climate Change and Risk                                                                                                                   From a big picture point of view, there have been many academic papers in the last decade warning of the impacts on tourism from climate change. A risk mitigation goal to increased travel costs has not been achieved (Boeing, as an example, predicts the number of planes will double by 2030 and passenger numbers will triple) nor have we seen many measurable low carbon tourism goals achieved.

Thus as tourism grows, so does its contribution to CO2 pollution, which subsequently contributes to climate change which stimulates extreme weather events.

From a regional point of view, risk adaptation is a tourism strength. A disaster in one country simply means tourists can (and do) quickly adapt and switch to another venue. While from a global perspective this enables tour operators and travel companies to maintain income, destinations in ‘hot spots’ lie vulnerable (tourism climate ‘hot spots’ as identified by UNWTO/UNEP/WMO 2007). Their vulnerability can also be longer lasting as ‘safer’ destinations competitively market against them.

From a ‘hot spots’ point of view, extreme weather events propelled by climate change are therefore a serious immediate risk for tourism providers, communities and governments, especially for small countries where tourism accounts for a significant proposition of GDP like British Virgin Islands (+80%), Saint Lucia(+50%) and Fiji (25%).

As the frequency of extreme weather events grows, so the emergency resources will be stretched. This means that emergency services will only be able to focus on primary infrastructure leaving communities to protect and prepare for themselves in secondary rural areas. This is a key issue professionals must recognise; sustainability should also include local destination protection by tourism.

Australian Example                                                                                                                       Developed countries face challenges. Consider a country like Australia where the Climate Commission described the December 2012-February 2013 as the ‘Angry Summer’:

  •  ‘7 Days in a row over 39C for Australia as a whole’
  • ‘Hottest January’ on record
  • ‘Hottest Summer’ on record
  • ‘Hottest Day’ on record for Australia as a whole

This translated into insurance damages of AUD$89 million from bush fires in Tasmania and AUD$33 million in the Warrenbungles mountain range in New South Wales (average annual bush fire insurance damage claims is AUD$77 per annum).

There was also the loss in visitor expenditure. A relatively small bush fire in the Shoalhaven away from habitation still had impact. This is a council region on the south coast of New South Wales with a population of 95,000 and visitor population during the summer peak period of an additional 350,000. An independent report identified that holiday makers cancelled their bookings and operators, who bank on the peak season, lost sales that cannot now be recouped.

This is because tourism is consumed at the point of production and you cannot store and sell tourism later. Thus lost bookings are gone forever. A similar situation was recorded in the directly affected area of the Warrenbungles and in neighbouring regions which did not have any bush fires. These economic impacts only compound the country’s low tourism sector productivity.

Risk costs are naturally larger in countries such as the United States. The impacts by Hurricane Sandy saw several events cancelled and a 2.5% drop in hotel occupancy across the nation. The state of New York alone required a US$42 billion in disaster aid.

Facing Our Challenge                                                                                                                          The specifics of exactly how much tourism has lost from, for example incentives and meetings cancellations in America or beach holidays in Australia are unknown. The industry prefers to focus on delivering a message that everything is back to normal. Yet the losses in sales are not recoverable. As explained above, many tourism providers do not appear to spend time and resources to make a risk management plan. The impacts of extreme weather events are seen as potential threats and as such intangible in the pace of daily routines. From my Australian research it is evident that tourism providers in bush fire prone areas generally did not have any bush fire plan. Yet even after the fire event, they honestly did not expect to introduce one, because the ‘threat had passed’ and daily tasks swamped their workload.

Where to focus                                                                                                                                   Risk Management can be divided into four categories:

  • Prevention: identifying hazards, risks and mitigating the dangers. This has been traditionally focused on legislation, building codes and land use.
  • Preparedness: developing a preparedness plan and training, to better handle any crisis event.
  • Response: led by government emergency services.
  • Recovery: set in motion steps to return the destination back to its original state.

While the emergency services should focus on saving lives, tourism professionals should focus on helping tourism operators and communities protect their livelihoods.

Limited resources means we must focus on prevention and preparedness because reducing the risk of an extreme weather event’s impact is a better strategy than coping with its results and costs afterwards.

The question is: how does one motivate tourism businesses to adopt a Risk Management approach? Between theory and practice can lie an agent of change. Overall, it is recommended that a parallel motivation strategy is introduced to incentivise action.

Motivate through business improvement

  1. Creating better experiences and developing linkages are recognised as methods to grow the visitor economy, while from the tourism providers’ point of view increasing sales income is important. Therefore consider integrating risk management strategies into campaigns which seek to improve experiences and raise income. In other words use the development of the visitor economy as a method to raise awareness of the need for Risk Management and combine Prevention and Preparedness plans as part of the visitor experience.
  2. By improving the visitor experience, operators may well be in a position to either charge more or achieve a higher guest satisfaction level with subsequent increase of sales through word of mouth.
  3. Visitor experiences can be created from Locally Distinctive values. By linking product development to community values and the conservation of cultural heritage, tourism providers might be encouraged to take Prevention and Preparedness measures as they learn of the values of local assets and their interconnectedness with their own livelihoods. That is to say they will be encouraged to look further than their own property and be encouraged to acknowledge the interwoven nature of tourism in destinations.
  4. Develop new product ideas by flagging the threat and the solution becomes a new experience e.g. establish a bush fire museum which exhibits local scarred memorabilia; work with the Blue Cross and involve the community in its own story and conservation of records and artefacts; buy sheep to eat the grass reducing the threat of grass fires and offer this as an interpretive guest experience.
  5. Work with aboriginal or indigenous communities who are seeking to revitalise their knowledge and practices to steward the land and implement traditional land care practices.

Criteria for Success at Community Level

  • Change Management requires willingness to work as a group and give volunteer time
  • An Individual leader or a catalyst (such as an event that brings people together through a shared traumatic experience) that ignites actions
  • Community led to maintain long-lasting impacts
  • External expertise and guidance
  • Funding
  • Integration of Prevention and Preparedness that combines the Local Distinctiveness (local historical societies) the mitigation and adaptation strategies to create a competitive edge

Above all is the understanding that there is no ‘one size fits all’, each tourism provider and each community has to have their own unique plan.

To conclude, tourism professionals should encourage greater participation in Prevention and Preparedness by using a benefit led plan, through community consultation, that awakens tourism providers to their rich cultural heritage and incentives to stimulate action. Thereby, they should encourage tourism operators to both develop experiences which reflect the unique characteristics of their area and to recognise the need to nurture and take action to protect the destination themselves.

Source / Fuente: sostinternational.com

Author / Autor: sostinternational.com

 Date / Fecha: 22/04/13

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