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The Impacts of Climate Change on Tourism

Katiana Murillo

When we talk about adaptation to climate change it is because we can not sit and wait for the effects of this phenomenon while praying that nothing happens to us.

Whatever happens this year at the Paris summit, during which a binding agreement to reduce emissions should be agreed upon by all signatory countries of the Convention on Climate Change, to take effect in 2020, the truth is that we can no longer avoid the urgent effects of this phenomenon and we must prepare adequately.

This is true for all sectors, regions and communities, which need to have its own adaptation strategy. A national strategy can serve as a framework (Costa Rica certainly has not yet elaborated on its own strategy though it is urgently needed), but organizing strategies at the local and sectoral level can also make a difference.

I would like to talk specifically about the tourism sector, not only because it is a sector with a great economic impact and multiplier effect on Costa Rica, but precisely because the sector still struggles in practicing a climate change adaptation strategy.

We saw what happened in the Gulf of Nicoya a few days ago with the sinking of a catamaran where four people died. This can not be labeled as climate change, it was an unfortunate accident, a product of strong winds characteristic of this time of year and has caused problems in the past but never have we seen a disaster like this.

It is not yet known how tourism will be impacted by these types of disasters but undoubtedly the sector will be affected to a lesser or greater extent. Imagine what might happen in the future with extreme hydrometeorological events fueled by climate change if we are not prepared.

Are we going to stand with arms crossed hoping that hurricanes, that are going to become stronger, do not occur here, or that floods never hit a bus tour or severe droughts do not end up with unavailable water in areas with high tourist traffic such as Guanacaste?

Without doubt, and as an expert in tourism, the growing frequency of direct flights and increased visitors to key markets, more investment (not just tourist infrastructure, but in general) and more visitors (well distributed) can add to the the dynamism of the sector. But if there is one key issue that can spoil or grow a destination it is the issue of security.

Do not think of security only in the realm of a home robbery or a terrorist attack (of which fortunately we were not victims) but think of it in terms of climate change. And if we are not prepared with a good plan to help sectors like tourism to adapt (prevention and response), “lazy” will not save us, with regard to the Costa Rican campaigns abroad.

We are on time, but we have to act. There are warning signs. For example, the sea is gaining ground at our beaches due to climate change in the Caribbean and the Pacific from Punta Salinas to Punta Banco. We are also experiencing increased water stress in some regions, while in others it rains too heavily in very short periods, and even sightings of wild species is no longer an activity that can be programmed as before.

The question is, how are we going to prepare? If anything is certain it is that climate change will affect us whether we do something or not, but with very different results in each case.


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