India

Tourism development must be resilient

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Tourism is a strong industry, but it is also fragile and must be protected from the vagaries of weather in order to continue to grow

The past few weeks have been dubbed “summer hell” for the European tourism industry, as the continent saw extreme heat, catastrophic storms, wildfires and countless tourist deaths from heat stroke and other climate disasters. This is a major setback for the tourism industry. While the memory of the pandemic has not completely faded, discussions are underway about how to tackle a new set of climate-related challenges. Natural disasters are becoming more and more serious. Tourism is highly sensitive, vulnerable and sensitive to climate variables.

Also, during the same period, India also suffered from natural disasters. Half of the country appeared to be under water, cutting off swathes of land, stranded tourists and isolating people from the rest of the country. The local economy has come to a standstill, causing serious damage, including loss of property, lives, livelihoods, and destruction of valuable municipal and tourist infrastructure that has been carefully built over decades.

This is underscored by the massive damage caused by landslides and severe flooding in Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and elsewhere. It is not enough to build additional hotels, roads, airports and tourism infrastructure. The tourism industry must examine its ecological footprint at the local level and place resilience at the heart of its planning, execution and operations processes. Ensuring that precious resources invested in construction and development do not evaporate and dissolve before our eyes in a flash flood of just a few hours, as we have unfortunately witnessed in recent devastation.

Limiting disruption is therefore critical, as is avoiding economic damage and accelerating recovery. The tourism industry needs a roadmap on how to respond to climate-related natural disasters and protect itself from adverse impacts through strong long-term planning. This requires immediate attention.

By investing in comprehensive planning, early warning systems, building resilient infrastructure, and retrofitting and improving, we can enhance our ability to effectively respond to and recover from these events in the future. The country needs comprehensive vulnerability mapping and climate impact projections for the tourism industry for the next 5-10 years. This involves collecting data on changing weather patterns, existing infrastructure, population density, environment, socio-economic factors, travel patterns and more. The data can help assess the sensitivity of different tourist areas to changes in climate patterns and the resulting natural disasters. It can guide disaster risk reduction and management strategies.

Putting it lightly, you know you’re a true Indian when you listen to the weatherman’s forecast and confidently bet on the exact opposite outcome – our version of weather roulette! The age of “revenge travel” seems to have turned us all into daredevils willing to risk life, limb and common sense just to get to that tourist hotspot. Like our mission is to prove that we can survive in bad weather and beat extreme weather. That’s what we’ve seen time and time again, with winding car lines blocking state and national highways just to get to the hilly mountainous hotspots of the north on weekends and to extend long vacations with complete disregard for climate and weather conditions. This madness must stop.

Incorporating reliable weather updates/alerts via mobile notifications should be part of our nation’s daily routine. This shift will empower ordinary citizens to make informed decisions, act responsibly, ensure personal safety and mitigate urban chaos caused by unexpected weather. This will build people’s resilience and planning skills. This approach not only keeps the climate change discussion alive on a daily basis, beyond the circle of experts and activists, but also creates trust and ease among tourists who can receive valuable forecasts/warnings on their telecom operators’ mobile phones , so as to be better prepared.

It is worth noting that the entire value chain of the tourism industry, including airlines, hotels and transport, is dependent on weather conditions and seasonality. However, despite this dependency, many neglect to incorporate changing scenarios and changing weather insights into their daily operations, continuing with traditional practices and business as usual when running their trade. The tourism industry needs to be smart and better plan, prepare and adapt its operations to new disturbances and seasonal patterns, especially in vulnerable areas and regions.

The climate catastrophe we are witnessing will revolutionize tourist behavior and demographics in the coming days. Many people may avoid peak season, especially the young and old, prioritizing their health and safety, and taking weather and climate into account. This trend will intensify in the coming years, causing tourists to avoid certain places during peak season. As a result, the industry faces the daunting challenge of adapting to climate and disaster patterns. Adjustments to timing and destination selection are coming.

A single drizzle is enough to spell doomsday for major towns like Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Bangalore. The situation is so dire that these metropolises, which offer tourists access to the country’s gateway airport, can’t even pass a basic stress test of urban infrastructure. It would be unimaginable if future climate change-related events put these cities out of business. Tourism has a significant impact on these cities, so reducing risk and building resilience in a systemic way should be a top priority.

And we haven’t even talked about the impact of natural disasters on heritage and monuments, and protecting them as they face these changes. The tourism industry needs to be prepared to address these new conservation and conservation challenges that will fundamentally test and reshape our planning principles and protocols.

Tourism in India is a strong country. It contributes an estimated $178 billion to the country’s gross domestic product, making it the third-largest foreign exchange earner. The sector generates millions of jobs and is critical to India’s economic growth. However, this growth is fragile and easily disrupted by widespread natural disasters, with knock-on effects and lengthy recovery periods. Governments and industry need to invest in resilience measures to protect this vital sector and ensure its long-term sustainability.

(The author is a media and communications consultant in New Delhi with experience in various fields including aviation and tourism

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