Disaster Risk Management

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Motivating tourism to protect destinations: the gap between extreme weather threats and preparedness
Christopher Warren, Director of the International Centre  for Responsible Tourism – Australia

Christopher Warren, Director of the International Centre for Responsible Tourism – Australia

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.