Interview with Mr Francesco Frangialli
Secretary-General of the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO)
Tourism is one of the world’s largest economic sectors and it is developing rapidly. In some countries, it is the main source of income. How do you see its future?
The strong and sustained rise of tourism over the past 50 years is one of the most remarkable phenomena of our time. Tourism has shown itself to be a strong contributor to the balance of payments, as well as a highly labour-intensive activity that opens up opportunities for the small businesses that provide it with products and services. Its impact is particularly strong in local farming, fishing and handicraft and even the construction industry. In developing countries, especially, tourism creates many direct and indirect jobs. It represents fertile ground for private initiative. It serves as a foothold for the development of a market economy where small and medium-sized enterprises can expand and flourish. In poor rural areas, it often constitutes the only alternative to subsistence farming, which is in decline.
The number of international tourist arrivals has grown from 25 million in 1950 to 808 million in 2005. This increase in physical flows is equivalent to an average annual growth of 7 per cent over a long period. The revenues generated by these arrivals—not including airline ticket sales and revenues from domestic tourism—have risen by 11 per cent a year (adjusted for inflation) over the same time-span. This rate of growth far outstrips that of the world economy as a whole. International tourism receipts reached US$ 622 billion in 2004, making it one of the largest categories of international trade. This trend is about to continue, despite a series of natural disasters and terrorist threats. We expect international tourist arrivals to increase to 1.6 billion by 2020.
How does weather impact tourism and its sustainable development? What is the impact on decisions taken without the use of weather or climate information and of using incorrect or uncertain information?
For tourism businesses, accurate weather and climate information, as well as the prediction of extreme weather events, are becoming increasingly important, given that the programming of many tourism activities is heavily climate-dependent, and that insurance practices in tourism are greatly impacted by natural hazards.
It is obvious that, if the planning and daily operation of tourism activities are carried out without adequate weather information, these can greatly affect the comfort, health and safety of holiday-makers, jeopardizing the overall tourist experience. It is especially true for beach, nature-tourism and other outdoor activities, where the timing of programmes, the preparation of proper equipment, clothing and other accessories, are highly weather- and climate-dependent.
Regarding the longer-term sustainable development of tourism, I believe that climate factors and accurate climate information will be increasingly determinant. Tourism forms the backbone of the economy in many local communities worldwide. Adverse climatic conditions arising from climate change can seriously harm tourism operations and the host communities that depend on them.
Many destinations can be mentioned. For example, how would the residents of Zermatt in Switzerland make a living without sufficient snow covering its emblematic peak and the surrounding ski slopes; how would tourism-related businesses in Chamonix in France survive without excursions to its famous glacier “mer de glace” that has been retreating because of atmospheric warming; or the surfing industry at Waikiki Beach in Hawaii without large waves and sunny weather; the tropical paradise of the Maldives without safe diving because of frequent storms, reduced visibility and damaged reefs, or the golf courses on the Costa del Sol in Spain without the water to keep them green?
Does the tourism sector feel it has enough information on weather and climate to plan and to serve clients’ interests? If not, what will it need from National Weather Services and WMO to help develop its activities in a sustainable manner?
Weather patterns are shifting; climate variability and climate change will constitute an increasing risk for tourism operations in many destinations. Governments and the private sector should place importance on the management and use of climate information and incorporate climate factors in tourism policies, development and management plans. For this, effective coordination between environmental and tourism organizations is determinant for further research, awareness-raising and capacity-building, as well as the development and application of adaptation and mitigation measures in the tourism sector.
We are still in the phase of raising awareness about weather- and climate-related information. An increasing number of severe natural disasters contribute to speeding up this process. I believe that the support of National Weather Services and of WMO is crucial for this purpose. There is good evidence in the travel media, for example on Websites where climate aspects are incorporated as part of tourist information. It is hard, however, to estimate to what extent the tourism sector uses the information produced by National Weather Services and whether it is done in an effective manner. This is an interesting subject: perhaps WMO and UNWTO could engage in a joint survey and analysis. Guidelines could then be developed and good practices identified as to how public and private tourism organizations—and the tourists themselves—could better use climate information.
In this context, WTO is currently preparing project proposals on climate-change adaptation in tourism, which will be submitted to the Global Environmental Facility. A series of pilot projects will assist selected Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in order to develop and demonstrate adaptation policies and techniques for beach destinations and coastal ecosystems. National committees will be formed and we expect that National Weather Services will be fully involved.
How does the tourism sector use weather forecasts for short-term decision-making? Does it also use climate forecasts for mid-term decisions and climate change projections for long-term planning?
Favourable climatic conditions are key attractions for holiday-makers. It is especially true for beach destinations and the conventional sun-and-sea segment, which is still the main form of tourism. Tourists are attracted to Mediterranean coasts and tropical islands by ample sunshine, warm temperatures and little precipitation, to escape the harsher seasons and weather conditions of their home countries. Mountain tourism and winter sports are also highly dependent on favourable climate and weather conditions, such as adequate precipitation and snow levels. In general, accurate climate and weather information is key for planning and carrying out trips and outdoor activities.
In spite of the evident importance of climate factors for the long-term viability of tourism businesses, climate information is used mostly for short-term decision-making for tourism operations and programming of activities through weather forecasts. The strategic importance of climate factors in tourism planning and development was emphasized at the first International Conference on Climate Change and Tourism, convened by UNWTO in Djerba, Tunisia, in 2003, with the collaboration of six UN agencies, including WMO. Nevertheless, the use of long-term climate-change projections is currently very limited in the tourism sector and there is much to be done in this field.
A SIDS pilot country project is currently underway in Fiji, where a study revealed that various coastal resort areas are located in zones at risk from tropical cyclones. It is obvious that, when decisions were taken on designating some of these areas for resort development, climate information was not taken fully into consideration. The project aims to develop a climate-change adaptation strategy for tourism in Fiji as part of an overall risk-management framework with a long-term perspective. Mid- and long-term climate change projection and climate information will therefore be critical in this process.
How does the sector cope with changes in seasonal climate patterns? Is projected climate change expected to affect tourism?
Climatic conditions are dynamically changing, posing new risks to tourism operations. The tourism sector needs to develop its capacity to adapt in order to maintain its viability, to continue generating socio-economic benefits for the host communities and to provide quality experiences for tourists.
Climate—in the form of daily weather, extreme events, or gradual changes—impacts tourism both directly and indirectly. Directly, climate variability and changing weather patterns can affect the planning of tourism programmes and daily operations. Changing weather patterns at holiday destinations can significantly affect holiday-makers’ comfort, their decisions about making trips and, finally, the tourist flow. For example, a warmer summer in Europe can reduce the motivation of inhabitants of northern countries to visit the Mediterranean coasts that can be excessively hot in summertime; destinations closer to home can be more attractive. If the usual high season of northern hemisphere summer months becomes too hot for tourists, a shift might occur towards taking holidays in cooler months, further inland or higher altitude areas that are cooler. Climate change can bring both problems and opportunities. The tourism sector needs to understand these trends in order to be prepared and adapt.
Climate change can have a significant, indirect impact on tourism activities by altering the natural environment that represents both a key attraction and basic resource for tourism. Examples of negative impacts are coastal erosion, damage to coral reefs and other sensitive and biodiversity-rich ecosystems, or insufficient snow coverage at winter sports destinations. Problems with water supply affect a wide range of destinations, especially when it is considered that the high holiday season and increased demand for water coincides with dry periods and reduced water-supplies.
A more personal observation will illustrate the overall point I wish to make. It so happens that, aside from my functions within the United Nations system, I am also the deputy mayor of my village in the French Alps, Morzine-Avoriaz, a community of 3000 people on the Swiss border, 90 km from Geneva. Morzine-Avoriaz is a village like any other, but for the fact that it is a popular destination for skiing and other winter sports. It has an accommodation capacity of 37000 beds, half in the valley at an altitude of 1000 m and the other half in a new resort at 1800 m.
As seen from my village, climate change is not a potential problem but a reality that is being experienced now. Nowadays, the lower limit of the snow cover on the southern slopes, depending on the year, is 200-300 m higher than it was 50 years ago. In the 1970s, at an altitude of 1800 m, we used to receive 13-14 m of cumulative snowfall during the winter. Today, we receive half that: 6-7 m. Our main concern stems not so much from warming itself, but rather low precipitation in winter. In the neighbouring Chamonix Valley, the glaciers of the Mont Blanc massif—a major tourism attraction—have retreated some 500 m, i.e. they are back to their levels of the 1960s, before their advance of the 1970s until 1983.
In this part of the northern Alps, the ski industry is now concentrated at high-altitude resorts. It has survived, thanks to better ski-run grooming and the introduction of snow cannons, but the latter is only a palliative measure that itself creates other environmental problems regarding water consumption and visual and noise pollution.
We are worried about the future. A study by the French Meteorological Service (Météo-France) tells us that the duration of snow cover, which is currently of the order of five months at 1500 m, could be reduced by 40 days if temperatures rise just 1.8°C. For us, that would mean no more snow for the year-end holidays or the spring break. Conservative estimates of warming in our region for the present century are well above 1.8°C.
We are trying to respond by diversifying our tourism products, with increased reliance on the summer season and the off-season. We are making an effort to promote tourism that is more sustainable and to address mobility problems regarding access to the village through an urban transport plan and the introduction of electrically powered shuttles within the village. We are taking care to preserve the character of Avoriaz as a car-free, high-altitude resort. We want to reduce our contribution to greenhouse-gas emissions. We are well aware that we will not solve the planet’s problems at the level of our community, but if those who have the means do not do so, who will?
Is the frequency of natural disasters a major factor? How important is weather and climate information among these factors?
Extreme weather events, such as cyclones, hurricanes and flooding, can damage tourism infrastructure physically and pose a great risk for the safety of both holiday-makers and host communities. Moreover, tourist destinations affected by major weather-related hazards can suffer greatly from secondary effects, such as economic impacts on local businesses or a negative image in the media. In the aftermath of these tragic events, it takes much effort to rebuild both the physical environment and the image of destinations. The hurricanes that swept through the Caribbean in 2005 reinforced the prediction that, in the long term, both the frequency and strength of cyclones would increase. Early warning systems and weather-information services are vital to prevent major hazards at tourism destinations becoming disasters.
Does the sector have contingency plans for climate-related and man-made emergencies?
In 1998, UNWTO, jointly with WMO, published the Handbook on Natural Disaster Reduction in Tourist Areas. A significant part of this publication addresses contingency planning and preparedness for extreme events.
Unfortunately, emergency situations caused by natural phenomena and man-made events are not new to the tourism sector, which endured a number of crisis situations in the past. The event of 11 September 2001 and the various crises of these past few years, such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) disease, the Indian Ocean tsunami, oil price rises and other socio-economic uncertainties, dealt a severe blow to the sector globally. It has always shown strong resilience, however, and is already back on the path of strong growth. UNWTO has been addressing crisis-management issues through research, producing guidelines and providing capacity-building and technical assistance to its members in the field. We also aim to avert crisis situations by improving information services and collaborating with other institutions, such as with the World Health Organization on the current avian influenza issue.
How can WTO and WMO work together to strengthen their already solid relationship and enhance national and regional collaboration? Can joint activities include biometeorological studies in support of the Olympics, for example?
There has been good collaboration between the two UN specialized agencies, based on the official cooperation agreement signed in 1992. Among recent activities, I would like to highlight the discussions held at the UN Coordination Meeting on Tourism Matters, organized by UNWTO in 2004 and UNWTO’s contribution to the recent edition of WMO’s World Climate News, that was dedicated to climate and tourism issues. I also had the opportunity to participate in the WMO Technical Conference on Climate as a Resource that preceded the 14th session of the WMO Commission for Climatology (Beijing, November 2005). We warmly support the decision adopted by the Commission to formulate an Expert Team on Climate and Tourism and fully agree with the terms of reference. These activities can be the basis for an excellent agenda for collaboration. Among these, the strengthening of working relationships between National Tourism Administrations and National Weather Services should be a priority.
There are intensive research activities in biometeorology and a growing body of knowledge that can be applied, for example, to the comfort, health and safety of tourists, and tourists’ perception of climate factors; these conditions are determinant for a satisfying vacation experience. UNWTO has been involved in sports tourism and has organized international events, also with a special focus on winter sports. Biometeorological studies in support of sport tourism activities and major sport events, such as the Olympics, could certainly be another potential field of cooperation between our agencies.
How important is the environment, compared to profitability, in managing tourism? Are there any social, economic, legislative or political hurdles that hamper (or discourage) integration of climate and environment into planning?
Natural environment and environmental resources form the sole basis of any tourism products and activities; they should not be jeopardized by short-term objectives of economic exploitation and profit-making. UNWTO has been promoting a sustainable development approach in the tourism sector, emphasizing the need for a balance in the environmental, economic and socio-cultural aspects. We have produced a series of guidelines and manuals, and organized numerous capacity-building events and conferences in order to support members of the public and private sectors in formulating and implementing sustainable tourism policies, strategies and plans. Sustainable tourism is also a main driver of our technical cooperation activities, whereby we provide assistance to countries to formulate master plans and sectoral strategies.
There have been great advances in the tourism sector since the Rio Earth Summit (1992) and there are various international processes and events that underpin these. Among these may be mentioned the UN Commission on Sustainable Development that dedicated its seventh session entirely to tourism issues in 1999; the International Year of Ecotourism in 2002; and the inclusion of tourism in the Plan of Action of the World Summit on Sustainable Development (Johannesburg, 2002). There is also a growing number of private-sector-led programmes, for example, the Tour Operators Initiative, which comprises some 20 leading tour operators, who joined forces to foster the application of sustainable practices along the tourism supply chain and at tourism destinations.
A policy report on sustainable tourism, prepared for the Johannesburg Summit by UNWTO, concluded that there have been great advances in creating awareness of sustainability issues in the tourism sector. Many countries declare they are pursuing, or wish to pursue, policies for “sustainable tourism”. Nevertheless, a degree of uncertainty remains over the possibilities and priorities for making tourism more sustainable and only a partial appreciation of how to put this into practice. Today, a wide range of technical and technological solutions is available for minimizing tourism’s negative impacts and maximizing its social and economic benefits. Yet, the application of these solutions has been relatively slow and partial in most destinations. The practical application of tourism planning and management techniques and the effective implementation of tourism policies and development plans are the greatest challenges the tourism sector faces today.
What are the highlights of the long-term strategy of WTO and how do you see the role of weather and climate information in this context?
Regarding the role of weather and climate information, our strategic objective is to assist destinations in preparing for, and adapting to, the long-term impacts of climate change, through conserving and enhancing the resilience of ecosystems, developing adequate tourism infrastructure and products and improving the management of climate information.
Based on the results of the proposed pilot projects at island destinations, we plan to develop tourism-sector specific guidelines, and mainstream their application in other countries. We would like to extend studies and pilot projects to other types of destination as well, such as mountain regions. The initial focus was on island destinations as they are the most vulnerable to potential climate-change impacts, which are visible and felt in many of them, such as extreme climatic events, rising sea-levels and freshwater supply. This is also in line with our strategic objective of assisting Small Island Developing States, which we re-confirmed at the SIDS Global Summit in Mauritius in 2005.
UNWTO is also collaborating in the process of preparing the Fourth Assessment Report coordinated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. We have nominated experts in climate change and tourism issues, and we are participating in the review process. I am pleased to see that tourism is more explicitly addressed in the Fourth Assessment Report than in previous ones, notably in Working Group II and its Chapter 7 regarding industry, settlement and ssociety, as well as in some of the regional chapters. As climate scenarios and climate change prediction models are becoming more refined and more accurate at regional and local levels, we hope they can be increasingly applied at holiday destinations.
We should not forget that there is a two-way relationship between tourism and climate, as was clearly stated in the Declaration issued at the Djerba Conference. Tourism is impacted by climate change, but also contributes to the causes of climate change, mainly through emissions from transportation and consumption of energy in tourism facilities, as well as by altering the natural environment. We have been addressing these issues through promoting environmental practices as integrated parts of destination management and tourism operations.
In all these processes we will count strongly on our collaboration with WMO.