IMAGE: BARBADOS BEACH
Chris Brandis  /  AP file
Tourist beaches like this one in Barbados could be threatened by rising sea levels should warming worsen. The Caribbean was one of the "hotspots" cited in a new U.N. report on climate and tourism.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 10/2/2007 12:46:58 PM ET 2007-10-02T16:46:58

Global warming will produce stay-at-home tourists over the next few decades, radically altering travel patterns and threatening jobs and businesses in tourism-dependent countries, according to a stark assessment by U.N. experts.

The U.N. Environment Program, the World Meteorological Organization and the World Tourism Organization said concerns about weather extremes and calls to reduce emissions-heavy air travel would make long-haul flights less attractive.

Holiday-makers from Europe, Canada, the United States and Japan were likely to spend more vacations in or near their home countries to take advantage of longer summers, they said.

In a report prepared for a U.N. conference on climate change and tourism this week, they identified four "hotspots" that would be particularly affected by warming: the Caribbean; the Mediterranean; small island nations in the Pacific and Indian oceans; and Australia and New Zealand.

The report also projected that global warming would reduce demand for travel between northern Europe and the Mediterranean, between North America and the Caribbean, and between northeast Asia and southeast Asia.

"The geographic and seasonal redistribution of tourist demand may be very large for individual destinations and countries by mid- to late-century," the agencies said.

"This shift in travel patterns may have important implications, including proportionally more tourism spending in temperate nations and proportionally less spending in warmer nations now frequented by tourists from temperate regions."

However, overall travel demand was expected to grow by between 4 and 5 percent a year, with international arrivals doubling to 1.6 billion by 2020.

In some developing and island states, tourism accounts for as much as 40 percent of national economic output.

Officials from tourism-dependent countries such as the Maldives, Fiji, the Seychelles and Egypt told the conference that shifts in travel choices, and ecological damage from global warming, posed serious threats to their businesses and jobs.

"Tourism is a catalyst to the economy. If you are hitting the tourism sector, automatically this rocks the whole economic machinery," Michael Nalletamby of the Seychelles Tourism Board told the Davos conference.

Christopher Rodrigues, chairman of the British government agency VisitBritain, said the sector needed to find ways to reduce the effects of ever-increasing travel demand on the environment, which in turn affects the industry's health.

"The biggest risk is that the success of the tourist industry becomes its own undoing," he told the conference.

The report estimated that carbon gases from tourism are about 5 percent of all manmade emissions.

If no mitigation measures are taken, the report added, tourism contribution to carbon emissions could grow by 150 percent in the next 30 years.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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