The recently released government report on climate change establishes a new urgency for the wider travel and tourism community – passionate travelers, and the businesses and localities who serve them – to do something to protect the destinations we know and love.
The National Climate Assessment is required by law to be produced every four years and represents the collective thinking of 13 US government agencies about the state of our environment. The 2018 report is notable for projecting how various aspects of climate change – like rising sea levels and higher temperatures – might start to compound each other with dire consequences.
The latest findings are a call to action for those connected to travel. Domestic tourism and recreation are called out in the report as one of two sectors especially vulnerable in the USA (agriculture is the other). The 2018 climate report red-lines the future of a large swath of USA tourism:
Climate change poses risks to seasonal and outdoor economies in communities across the United States, including impacts on economies centered around coral reef-based recreation, winter recreation, and inland water-based recreation. In turn, this affects the well-being of the people who make their living supporting these economies, including rural, coastal, and Indigenous communities … These and other climate-related impacts are expected to result in decreased tourism revenue in some places and, for some communities, loss of identity.
With travel and tourism now declared at risk for climate change, we as adherents have new standing to do something more. But what?
We live in an age where disregarding experts is an expression of personal autonomy. Citing an expert report seems no longer enough; a personal connection or endorsement is required for someone to pay attention. When the effects of our changing climate are shared by friends or colleagues, we listen differently. When attributed to one’s livelihood, happiness and way of life, suddenly the stakes and urgency seem higher.
We in travel and tourism have potentially influential first-hand observations about destinations we work for or visit that can be compelling to others; now is the time to share them.
Travel is my passion – personally and professionally. This dual lens is particularly important when it comes to Cape Cod. It’s one of those special destinations: oversized freshwater ponds, sprawling bike trails, dramatic beaches and an abiding sense of nature in harmony. I see the Cape and Islands through the eyes of a visitor, eager to enjoy this magical haven. Yet since HI USA has operated five hostels there for more than 40 years, my focus also tracks the practical and longer-term realities of a facility operator.
Our guests are drawn to our communal living and to the affordable access we provide to elite destinations: Eastham, Hyannis, Truro, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. Next year’s visitors are already planning their trips to these special places, while we who have been planted on the Cape for a while have our mind on other things:
Local kettle ponds seem more filled with vegetation due to warming water. A rash of strong storms in recent years have left scores of trees broken and buildings scarred, including one of our hostels. A new species of disease-infected ticks seems to be gaining a foothold in parts of the Cape.
These examples by themselves are troubling but not paralyzing. They become compelling when joined with the observations and experiences of others. That’s the larger point.
By sharing our own first-hand examples, we can make trends real for those who cannot yet see them. And by doing it together, we can build a national dialogue that is grounded in personal experience.