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Localizing climate services for resilient tourism development in Chitwan

Mandira Singh Shrestha, Anu Kumari Lama, Sunayana Basnet & Lalu Maya Kadel

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Greater one-horned rhinoceros (Photo: Santosh Raj Pathak/ICIMOD)

Despite growing global economic importance of the tourism sector and the multiple, complex interactions between climate and tourism, there have been very limited evaluations of the use of climate information or assessments of the climate-services needs within the tourism sector.Our Climate Services Initiative (CSI) has initiated a pilot project on tourism and climate services to address these challenges. It aims to localize climate services for resilient tourism development in Chitwan, Nepal, and works with a range of partners to promote the use of climate information and services in decision making and for addressing the increasing impacts of climate variability and change on tourism businesses at the local level. The pilot project is organised around three change pathways: availability of and access to climate information, capacity building, and partnerships.

The climate services are being co-designed and co-developed with key stakeholders. This approach ensures that the services are relevant to the context and the process helps build both the technical capacity of institutions and individuals, particularly to improve the generation, processing, and use of climate services.


Rich biological and cultural diversity
Greater one-horned rhinoceros
Greater one-horned rhinoceros (Photo: Santosh Raj Pathak/ICIMOD)


Chitwan district is unique and diverse, both from ecological and cultural perspectives. The district is endowed with rich biodiversity and agro-biodiversity. Chitwan National Park (CNP), Nepal’s first National Park, is a UNESCO Heritage Site, well known as one of the last refuges for the iconic species the greater one-horned rhinoceros and the Bengal tiger. CNP and its buffer zones are also among the last remnants of the natural ecosystems in the Terai region which supports rich floral and faunal diversity. The park is home to almost 68 species of mammals, more than 576 species of birds, 49 species of reptiles and amphibians, 120 species of fish and several species of invertebrates, which significantly contribute to ecosystem processes in the park (Management Plan for Chitwan National Park and its Buffer Zone 2013-2017). The district is also inhabited by several indigenous groups who have shaped its culture and identity.


A world-renowned destination
Elephant safari
Elephant safari (Photo: Anu Kumari Lama/ICIMOD)
Boat safari
Boat safari (Photo: Anu Kumari Lama/ICIMOD)


Chitwan is one of the top tourist-receiving districts of Nepal. CNP is globally renowned for wildlife-based tourism, with its vision to become a model destination for development, promotion, and management of sustainable, community-based, inclusive and conservation-oriented ecotourism (Chitwan National Park and Buffer Zone Management Plan, 2017/18-2021/2022). The safaris are a major attraction, through which tourists experience the rich wildlife and nature, and are informed about the region’s ecosystems and wildlife. A range of safari tourism stakeholders – nature guides and people involved in boat, jeep and elephant safaris – depend on tourism services and activities for income. Safari tourism stakeholders support the tourists through provision of safe transportation, landscape and biodiversity interpretation, identification and photography services and other recreation services.


A vulnerable sector of concern

Chitwan’s tourism economy and businesses heavily depend on the region’s wildlife and nature, which are highly vulnerable to the adverse impacts of climate variability and change. To better understand this relationship and vulnerabilities, we carried out a scoping visit in 2020 to engage in a collaborative process of exploring, assessing, and understanding the sectoral dimensions of climate variability, and change impacts for mapping key concepts (related to climate service product needs, design, development, and dissemination). We also met with a range of stakeholders to identify issues, opportunities, and gaps from the perspectives of communities, tourism service providers, and decision makers. During the discussions, it was evident that climate related calamities and threats ranked high, including both slow onset and extreme events. Some of the perceptions related to climate variability include increased temperature, changing rainfall patterns, and extreme heat, which are leading to habitat degradation, decrease in grasslands and wetlands, drought, floods, and landslides.

soping visit
The scoping study team and local safari tourism stakeholders from ICIMOD, National Trust for Nature Conservation-Biodiversity Conservation Center (NTNC-BCC), CNP, Nature Guides Association, community homestays, Chitwan Tourism Development Committee, Federation of Community Forestry Users Nepal (FECOFUN) and Buffer Zone Community Forest Users Group.


Participants also recalled the devastating 2017 flood. The flash flood and its impact on floodplain dynamics had disrupted tourism-related business operations. Tourism stakeholders stressed the need for timely and reliable weather forecasts, and early warning systems to provide adequate lead time for preparedness and evacuation. Similarly, stakeholders felt that hotels, restaurants, and bars could benefit from impact-based weather forecasts in planning responsive services for optimal guest experiences.


Climate and weather services for resilient tourism

Tourism and climate have an interdependent and complex relationships with implications for destinations, tourist spending, business operations, market viability and wellbeing of safari tourism dependent stakeholders. Given that tourism is one of the largest and fastest growing sectors, and a significant contributor to the local economy, timely weather and climate information is of strategic significance for tourism and its sustainability in Chitwan. Improved climate services are vital for tourism stakeholders to adapt to climate change impacts in an economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable manner. In particular, it is the availability of key resources and amenities such as water, flora and fauna and the seasonality that determine types and viability of safari tourism activities. Scientific knowledge about climate variability and change can lead to effective response by stakeholders, and such knowledge can be curated and packaged according to their needs. Hence, it is important to highlight the importance of climate services when linked with their utility value in the local context.

The findings from the scoping study in Chitwan provides sufficient preliminary evidence of how climate variability and change is impacting communities, tourism-related livelihoods, and the natural resource base on which it is dependent. Based on this study, localizing climate services for resilient tourism in Chitwan should include: a holistic and integrated framework, using an approach and processes that emphasize co-design and co-development in the production (generating and curating), dissemination (transferring) and use (decision making) of climate services; and, an enabling environment and mechanisms that are intrinsic to institutional strengthening, which will help facilitate the effective use and uptake of climate services by end users, in this case safari tourism decision makers.

With growing awareness of the risks and opportunities of climate variability and change, the use of climate services in decision making, policy and planning is becoming increasingly important. The lack of access to and use of relevant climate knowledge and information is putting the destination, businesses, and safari tourism stakeholders at risk. Hence, localized climate services are vital for safari tourism stakeholders to adapt to climate change impacts in an economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable manner. Based on the results of the scoping study, we will focus our efforts on addressing fundamental knowledge gaps, and facilitate the co-design and co-development of tailored climate services to reduce climate risk and support climate-change adaptation in the tourism sector.

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