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Travel industry must brace itself for the climate crisis

Tourism has taken one of the hardest hits of any industry during the COVID-19 crisis. According to a new study from Lund University, the pandemic has exposed the travel industry’s lack of resilience to any type of sudden decline, including an abrupt loss of business as a result of climate change.

Professor Stefan Gössling said that while the virus may or may not be temporary, the climate crisis is here to stay, and tourism will have to adapt.

Even before the coronavirus shut down borders and brought travel to a near halt, the tourism industry was suffering worldwide.

Airlines were already facing declining profits and were forced to lower the price of flights.

Global travel companies like AirBnB, and TripAdvisor had compounded the strain on the market. 

“Even though we have warned for decades that a virus, for example SARS, could significantly affect tourism, nobody expected a virus to have this kind of impact,” said Professor Gössling.

The climate crisis is impacting tourism in a similar way as the coronavirus. The collapse of UK tour operator Thomas Cook in 2019 was attributed to the summer heatwave, which led to fewer bookings.

“Imagine several crises of similar magnitude to COVID-19. Extreme and unpredictable weather, a global food shortage or other consequences of climate change. And since this will possibly go on for longer than the current pandemic, the tourism industry will suffer greatly,” explained Professor Gössling.

The study author noted that there are a few tangible guidelines for both the industry and tourists to pivot towards that would make tourism more resilient as well as climate friendlier. For example, when people travel to destinations closer to home, the bookings are usually longer and the profits are kept local.

For business owners, Professor Gössling has some specific recommendations for shifting the focus away from energy-intense products in an effort to slow climate change: focus on closer markets, increase the length of stay in vacation packages, and try to shift toward food sold by local farmers.

Despite this advice, there are many conditions that are beyond the grasp of individual businesses, said Professor Gössling.

“Even if you are a small family-owned business that does everything according to the sustainability book, you may still suffer the consequences of climate change,” said Professor Gössling. “Many of the major structural changes will of course have to come from policy makers.”

The study is published in the Journal of Travel Research.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer


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