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22 Feb 2022 | Livelihoods

Climate services for sustainable mountain tourism

Sunayana Basnet

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Our mountains are under great pressure, especially from climate variability and change. As we dwell on the concept of sustainable mountain tourism, it is important to reflect on what sustainable tourism looks like for the mountain communities of the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH), their economy, and the ecosystems they depend on. With climate change impacts becoming a major challenge, it is important to build the resilience of small businesses that are the lifeline for mountain communities, given that they employ a significant segment of the semi-skilled workforce, especially women.


Climate change impacts on mountain tourism

With an increase in temperature, mountain destinations are at greater risk of extreme weather events such as floods, landslides, snow avalanches, glacier surges, wildfires, and droughts. The first installment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) suggests that climate change is intensifying the water cycle causing intense rainfall-associated flooding in some regions and severe drought in others. Warming is also amplifying the thawing of permafrost, snow cover loss and melting of glaciers, which increase the risk of flash and outburst floods and affect mountain tourism activities such as mountaineering, trekking, rafting, and hiking.

The November 2021 avalanche in Mustang showed the scale and intensity of damage that such disasters can have on lives and livelihoods and the future of tourist destinations. For those in Mustang who depend on tourism as a source of income, such disasters also disrupted future tourist bookings and plans. In 2015, Langtang – one of the most popular trekking destinations in Nepal – was hit by an avalanche and landslide triggered by the Gorkha earthquake. Over 650 people, including locals and foreign tourists, died in that incident. While the main route was repaired by 2017, it took two more years for the trekking trails to be completely rebuilt, after which tourist numbers, specifically domestic tourist numbers, picked up. However, in the interim, the tourism-dependent economy suffered. Tourist numbers dropped from 12,000 visitors annually before the earthquake to just over 5,000 in 2015–2016.

Concerted actions to ensure that tourist perceptions do not suffer after such disasters is needed to ensure mountain destinations continue to attract visitors, which is where climate services can play an integral role. Nepal’s mountainous areas are generally perceived to be difficult destinations and categorized under adventure tourism. While this categorization is an endorsement to one category of tourists, it is a deterrent to recreational tourists at a time when mountainous areas are becoming increasingly accessible. Climate information can help tourism entrepreneurs pitch and market mountain destinations effectively so that the less remote mountains might attract more recreational tourists. However, appropriate policies and careful planning are needed to ensure that the limited carrying capacity of these mountain destinations is not overshot.


Climate information for sustainable mountain tourism

Mountain tourism and its activities rely heavily on climatic conditions. Apart from the access to and facilities at the destination, weather conditions play a great role in the tourists’ decision-making process and overall experience. Climate variability not only affects the comfort and safety of tourists but also the elements that attract them in the first place, such as snow cover and wildlife. Therefore, it is crucial to understand and recognize the implications of weather and climate on tourism and tourist decision-making.

Climate information – particularly real-time observations, and short-term and seasonal forecasts – is essential for tourists and tourism business providers. As tourism plans and itineraries are developed ahead of the tourist season, businesses need to plan and strategize based on the weather trends for the season. Having pre-informed knowledge builds tourist confidence in the kind of experience that they can expect and helps build credibility of and trust in the service providers.

Given the growing incidence of extreme events and changed climate conditions, climate information has become a fundamental aspect of safe and sustainable tourism and business operation. Improved climate services are also vital for tourism stakeholders to adapt to climate change impacts in an economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable manner. Building the resilience of mountain tourism businesses not only helps safeguard against unforeseen natural disasters, but also helps build confidence amongst potential tourists in the safety of these destinations, encouraging greater numbers to visit. It also enhances visitor satisfaction and increases the chances of tourists promoting as well as revisiting these destinations.


Climate and weather services for resilient tourism in Nepal

Despite the global importance of climate services for tourism, the Global Framework for Climate Services has yet to recognize tourism as a priority area. In Nepal, the National Climate Change Policy does not specifically mention climate information services as a point of intervention in the conservation of natural, cultural, and social heritages. However, it is important to note that while the policy does not specifically explore how the tourism sector might be made climate friendly, it does acknowledge that there is a need to ensure information service delivery around climate change, specifically weather forecasts targeting mountaineering and trekking. Similarly, targeted information for the tourism sector is not yet a part of the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology’s working modality. While the department does collect and disseminate hydrological and meteorological data, information, and advisories, it does not provide tourism-specific data and advisories.

In this regard, given that weather and climate information is vital for tourism stakeholders (and to ensuring the development of climate-resilient tourism in Nepal), a good starting point would be to have broad-based consultations across major tourism sites to understand the specific climate services needs of tourism stakeholders. Additionally, rescue mechanisms in the high mountains also need access to real time and accurate climate information. With that understanding, we can develop and put in place a system that curates and disseminates climate information specific to tourists and tourism stakeholders.

The tourism ecosystem is multifaceted, with various actors at play, and there is a need for closer collaboration between government agencies and tourism stakeholders to promote the use of climate services for anticipating and addressing climate change impacts on the sector.


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