Tourist Destinations under Threat due to Climate Change

Photo: Collected

Visit Es Trenc, one of Mallorca’s most beautiful beaches, to witness the effects of climate change firsthand. Large concrete bunkers that were formerly constructed here by Spain’s then-dictator Francisco Franco were initially cloaked among the sand dunes. Due to the significant changes in the coastal landscape brought about by increasing sea levels, these constructions now stand out like sore fingers. Es Trenc beach is now 40 meters shorter overall than it formerly was, according to scientists. Many more Mallorca beaches will vanish under the sea if global warming proceeds as predicted.

Record numbers of visitors and disappearing coastlines

According to Thomas Dworak, who oversaw a Federal Environment Agency research on how global warming affects tourism, “We are seeing large-scale land loss in the Mediterranean region.” For islands like Mallorca, which are well-liked by tourists due to their huge beaches, this is a very worrying prospect. However, as of right now, none of this is apparent in visitor counts. Quite the opposite. This summer, Mallorca is hosting a record number of visitors.

There is little evidence that people are altering their travel habits as a result of climate change, said Dworak. He claims that despite repeated warnings about the repercussions on the tourism sector, there have only been a few studies that have shown actual effects.

Many Europeans are creatures of habit. “Someone who has spent the last 20 years vacationing in Italy will continue to do so,” he added. Even devastating natural disasters, like the glacier collapse in the Italian Dolomites at the beginning of July, which claimed 11 lives, don’t seem to have the kind of enduring impression that would cause people to reconsider their beliefs.

Little effect so far

According to Dagmar Lund-Durlacher, a professor of sustainable tourist management at Modul University Vienna, “the tourism in that region will eventually be impacted if the very same locations suffer frequent flooding or glacier failures.” But to date, she continues, such occurrences have happened infrequently in various places. “People are aware of the threat, but they don’t connect it to a particular area.” She claims that the Caribbean is an exception. Tropical Storm Dorian made landfall in the Bahamas in September 2019, wreaking havoc and crippling the travel industry.

While this is happening, ski resorts are among the areas most impacted by global warming as less snow falls as temperatures rise. The relationship between climate change and tourism is most obvious here, according to Dworak. Winter sports fans will avoid a ski resort if it had little or no snow for multiple years in a row.

Alpine areas are all too familiar with this issue, though several have turned to snow guns to make up for lost precipitation. Arnold Schuler, the tourism minister for South Tyrol, claims that the region of northern Italy has benefited from artificial snow production. In the winter, visitors return to do skiing and snowboarding. Summer and winter tourist counts have so far stayed steady. Schuler acknowledges that specific low temperatures are required for the manufacturing of artificial snow. Skiing is already not viable year-round in some parts of South Tyrol due to melting glaciers and rising temperatures.

Time to adjust

Fewer beaches, more frequent storms and floods, less snowfall, and an increase in storm frequency are just a few effects of global warming that will undoubtedly affect the travel and tourism sector. As experts have long predicted, heat waves and droughts will also discourage travelers from traveling to the impacted areas. The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) first emphasized how susceptible the tourism sector is to climate change in 2008. According to Environmental Consultants, few effects of global warming that could pose serious issues for well-liked tourist sites in the future include forest fires, new infectious diseases, biodiversity loss, and jellyfish plagues caused by rising oceans. Thus, cooler northern locations are likely to see an increase in tourism.

According to sustainable tourism specialist Lund-Durlacher, some travelers may already steer clear of the Mediterranean during the summer because of the heat. She claims that while few travelers have so far avoided southern Europe, well-known vacation spots should begin considering climate change adaptation. She asserts that they must act soon or tourists will eventually stop coming.

There is no one set strategy for addressing global warming. According to Dworak, each vacation spot must take precautions particular to the area. While forest fires are a threat to several national parks in Africa, there is a severe water scarcity in some areas of Greece. The beaches on Sylt, a well-known German island in the North Sea, are deteriorating. All of this means that each affected location will require unique solutions. It can entail looking for work outside the tourism sector for some locals. This might only entail promoting spring and fall travel to Italy rather than the hot summer, according to Dworak.

Nobody is sure how to stop massive amounts of sand from being washed into the sea, which is posing a huge challenge for Mallorca. There used to be room for six huts along Es Trenc beach, but now there is only room for three. Additionally, there are fewer sun loungers and umbrellas now.

These ostensibly insignificant and unimportant alterations, however, reveal a much more alarming and profound revolution in progress.