Climate change and the tourism sector: impacts and adaptations at visitor attractions

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: Management


Tourism is a vital to UK economy, society and culture. Described by government in its Tourism Recovery Plan (June 2021) as a 'national asset', prior to the Coronavirus pandemic the tourism sector accounted for around 10% of GDP, employed around 10% of the workforce (3.3 million workers), and it was highlighted as a central pillar for post-Brexit economic development.

Although a key sector of the economy and a part of many citizens' lives, the opportunities and the risks to tourism from a changing climate in the UK have not been the subject of systematic or sustained research. As a form of human activity, that in the UK at least is highly sensitive to weather and atmospheric conditions, there has been very limited attention to the possible impacts of, and necessary adaptation to, future climate change to the tourism sector. This conspicuous gap in knowledge was also recently (June 2021) highlighted in the technical reports providing evidence for the third independent Climate Change Risk Assessment (CCRA3) which the Climate Change Commission (CCC) prepares for government every five years.

The aim of this timely and urgent project is to pick up this challenges by investigating the relationship between weather/climate and visitation to attractions under current and predicted future climatic conditions. The focus on visitors and visitation is novel. To date, within existing research the main approach has been to concentrate on the impacts of climate change on the locations that visitors inhabit (e.g. coastal areas, historic buildings) rather than how weather and climate relate to behaviour. As the first study of its type in the UK, it will employ the UK Climate Predictions published in 2018 (UKCP18) and the CCRA3 climate futures to predict possible changes. The main research questions are how may climate change affect visitor patterns and behaviours at attractions, and what are the likely consequences for the future visitor economy to 2050 and beyond?

More specifically, through work embedded in the team delivering the Climate Change Adaptation programme at the National Trust, it will:

1. Identify the main climate risks and opportunities associated with visits to attractions (i.e. properties) on the coast, in the countryside and at historic sites;

2. Examine the relationship between current weather/climate and visitation (numbers, spend, dwell time) at individual attractions (i.e. properties) as a baseline;

3. Investigate whether the relationship varies by different types of attraction, their contexts and attributes;

4. Using UKCP18 data, examine how visitation may change under different climate scenarios and assumptions;

5. Establish the nature, extent and spatial pattern of vulnerability and exposure at attractions, and what adaptation responses should be considered for the most exposed;

6. Understand the challenges presented for individual attractions in responding to changing visitor decision-making and possible impacts on visitor infrastructure.

The project will use secondary datasets compiled by the National Trust and Historic Environment Scotland on visitors to their attractions in combination with weather/climate data from the Met Office to examine objectives 1-5 through statistical analysis and modelling. Case-studies of individual properties identified in this analysis will investigate objective 6, with a view to identifying possible alterations in visitor infrastructure required as a result of climate change.

Attractions have a key role in motivating and shaping trips away while the emphasis on built and natural heritage reflects the popularity and financial value of heritage tourism in the UK. In 2015, domestic and international tourists made 192 million trips to the UK's cultural, historic and natural assets, with such visitors spending on average more than those in other segments and contributing over 1.1% to UK GDP (Oxford Economics 2016 p3)


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