Professor Susanne Becken from the Griffith Institute for Tourism and Department of Tourism, Sport and Hotel Management is renowned for her work researching climate change adaptation in tourism and she was appointed to lead a tourism and climate change adaptation (CCA) project for the Thailand government in late 2018, by the German Corporation for International Cooperation (GIZ), with Professor Daniel Scott from the University of Waterloo in Canada and Dr Jutamas Wisansing, a tourism expert from PerfectLink in Thailand.
This project aims to strengthen the capacity of the Thai Department of Tourism (DOT) to assess and prioritise climate risks and coordinate climate-sensitive policy making in the Thai tourism sector, with the ultimate goal to protect and sustain the growing tourism sector that represents almost 20% of the Kingdom’s GDP.
“I was able to put together an excellent team with my colleague Professor Daniel Scott from the University of Waterloo, a renowned expert on climate and tourism, and PerfectLink, one of the leading tourism consulting firms in Thailand,” said Professor Becken.
“I have worked with Professor Scott previously, including on the widely cited UNWTO report (2008) which presented a state of the art assessment of where the tourism sector is at in terms of climate change.”
“Dr Jutamas Wisansing, who is the CEO of PerfectLink is highly respected in the Thai tourism sector and she has a deep understanding of what is happening on the ground.”
“The GIZ approached me, because I have been working on climate change for a long time and partly because of a Climate Change Symposium I co-organised with the China Tourism Academy last year and the Climate Change Action Plan that we developed recently for the Queensland Government and the Queensland Tourism Industry Council,” said Professor Becken.
Following the approval of the Thai Climate Change Master Plan (CCMP, 2015-2050) in 2015, Thailand started the development of its first National Adaptation Plan (NAP). This commenced with a nation-wide analysis to identify the country’s most vulnerable areas to climate change impacts, leading to a first draft NAP for Thailand in 2018. The draft NAP defines the tourism sector as one of six priority sectors for CCA.
A few years earlier professor Becken and researchers from Griffith University and the University of Surrey created the Global Tourism Sustainability Dashboard to identify what areas are important for tourism sustainability and to measure their impacts. They consulted with partners from, the World Travel and Tourism Council, Amadeus IT, EarthCheck and other international tourism stakeholders.
“The global sustainable tourism dashboard was created to develop a mechanism or platform to track tourism performance in terms of sustainability,” said Professor Becken.
“We wanted to complement existing international tourism statistics, for example by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation on international arrivals, or by the World Travel and Tourism Council on the economic impact of tourism.”
“So what the dashboard is trying to do is measure sustainability impacts, including carbon emissions, and the information in the dashboard will assist the tourism risk assessment in this project.”
Thailand is one of the top tourism destinations in the world with its natural wonders, unique culture, hospitality and popular food, and it’s in the top 10 most vulnerable countries of the Global Risk Index. The Thai tourism industry is growing rapidly, reaching over 30 million arrivals with more than 4.2 million jobs or 11% of total national employment. Understanding future climate changes and protecting the industry and communities from adverse impacts is a Government priority.
“Thailand is one of the Top 10 receiving countries in terms of international tourism. At the same time it ranks very highly in terms of disaster risk. Combine the two and consider that some risks are getting worse with climate change then you have a delicate combination,” said Professor Becken.
“The main hazards that Thailand is facing relate to flooding (remember the devastating 2011 Bangkok flood), but also increasing periods of water shortage.”
“In addition, and like many other tropical countries, there are serious issues around coral bleaching – affecting the economically very important diving and snorkelling tourism.”
“The project therefore starts with a comprehensive risk assessment, and this is done with input from the Department of Tourism and other players. But perhaps more importantly, there is a substantial training component and policy analysis, which should facilitate future action – beyond the risk assessment.” said Professor Becken.
The project involves three key areas; climate change risk assessments of tourism including a review of international best practices, policy analysis of entry points for future regulations, and capacity building and training for mainstreaming CCA awareness and sustainability in the tourism sector.
“This project focuses on adaptation and not carbon emissions. Whilst these are important too, for now the GIZ wishes to support policy and practice in the risk management areas,” said Professor Becken.
“Adaptation can also mean shifting the focus to different products and experiences; e.g. Thailand is going quite big on Gastronomy tourism and Medical tourism. Maybe these offer less vulnerable alternatives to coastal tourism. Further the project largely focuses on public policy as this is where the gap is and few other programs have focused on.”
“We are looking for existing policies and to assess where one could add climate change. For example land use planning policies, or tourism standards.”
Professor Becken helped organise the Thailand Risk National Adaptation Plan (NAP) Workshop in February, a climate-resilient training workshop for tourism professionals and associations, including officials from the Department of Tourism (DOT), and the Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning (ONEP).
“The workshop was a combination of presenting international frameworks for risk assessments and best practice, and working with the Thai stakeholders on identifying what is relevant in the Thai context,” said Professor Becken.
“We also started the data collection for a climate change perception survey that is still going on to assess the current knowledge and level of activity amongst Thai tourism stakeholders.”
“We have already developed a risk matrix and know that issues such as coral bleaching and flooding are right at the top.”
“Heatwaves seem less concerning to the Thai stakeholders, but that is maybe because they are used to hot conditions,” said Professor Becken.
“Whether this might be inhibiting for future visitors remains to be seen, or could be the topic of future research. Days over 35 degrees, for example, are projected to become much more frequent.”
The continuing growth of the tourism sector represents a big challenge for the Thai government as they look to adjust their tourism policy settings for climate change measures and sustainability without negatively impacting on the economic benefits provided by tourism jobs. Furthering this will be education and enforcement of new measures and training tourism sector participants of the new requirements.
“The growth of tourism is certainly a big challenge as it already puts pressure on the systems. Further growth will only make this worse,” said Professor Becken.
“As in most countries there is a (policy) conflict between one part of Government wanting to maximise growth – and spending marketing dollars on this – and another part to contain damage and reduce risk. It is too early to say how Thailand will resolve this inconsistency.”
“The other issue is the lack of enforcement. Early indication is that the policy framework already covers a lot of challenges, however it is not always implemented and enforced.”
“Possibly better training might help address this, and we will undertake several training sessions with staff from various Government agencies,” said Professor Becken.
“As with many other climate change impacts, it is the combination of a climatic hazard and other issues (e.g. air pollution, water pollution, deforestation) that really creates the risk. Disentangling these is not easy, but important – to develop the right response mechanisms.”
The environmental and socio-economic implications of mainstreaming CCA in tourism includes understanding the carrying capacities of tourists in a hotspot and how to operate with minimal impact on the environment while keeping businesses going.
“Mainstreaming CC into policy and practice generally implies to consider carrying capacities and understanding how to operate sustainably within a changing environment,” said Professor Becken.
“Employment is one of the key benefits of tourism, so to keep businesses and jobs going is essential. Water use is a good example, because operating more efficiently prepares for periods of drought and it is generally more sustainable.”
“One main barrier to CCA is the lack of long-term thinking, and addressing climate change and future risks should make the industry more resilient generally.”
The educational and workforce implications include zoning in tourism areas with national parks to protect ecosystems, risk assessment program applications and training people at all levels to build their knowledge on sustainable tourism management practices.
“This project will draw on international experience, including from Australia and Queensland in particular. For example the zoning in national parks (and the Great Barrier Reef of course) is a good example of managing a resource sustainably and allowing for some tourism to operate whilst protecting other areas,” said Professor Becken.
“Other solutions might be technology based. Again, one solution from Australia is the Risk App developed by Earthcheck for operators to prepare for crisis. It’s a useful tool to organise ‘things’ before an event, and then be able to respond quicker and more effectively.”
“Training is another key, and that applies to all levels, whether it is policy making or housekeeping. Thailand, for example, has started to market away from the hotspot attractions and developed plans for over 50 destinations within the country.”
“This seems a sensible approach to ‘dispersing’ tourism, however it will only be successful if these regions are adequately prepared,” said Professor Becken.
A Climate Change Risk Assessment (CCRA) report will be the first of the project deliverables, followed by the identification of tourism policies that could potentially include climate measures, then the development of training modules for ongoing tourism sector education.
“The first deliverable is the CCRA, which comes in the form of a report that presents a national risk assessment,” said Professor Becken.
“It also contains a ‘how to’ guide so that Thai tourism stakeholders can undertake future assessments as they need to, for example for specific regions. In particular we are interested in finding those ‘metrics’ that seem most pertinent to tourism and climate change.”
“For example, the average temperature may not be so meaningful for tourism, but the number of days over 35 degrees is more relevant. Similarly, the ocean surface temperature is less relevant than the percentage of coral bleached, or maybe even the number of viably operating marine tour operators.”
“The policy analysis will find those policies where climate change can be added, or it will also identify gaps,” said Professor Becken.
“Capacity building and training is an ongoing component of the project, but we will also convert this into ‘training modules’ that other organisations can pick up after the project.”
Professor Becken is working on another tourism climate policy project for the Queensland government with two Griffith Institute for Tourism (GIFT) colleagues and she plans to conduct a comparison between Queensland and Thailand policy.
“Dr Emma Whittlesea who is seconded to GIFT from the Queensland Government and Ms Johanna Schliephack who is currently doing her PhD on climate change and tourism in Vanuatu are part of this project,” said Professor Becken.
“Emma is examining in detail how Queensland has addressed the nexus of tourism and CC, and she is looking at the various policies and strategies to identify future points of improvement.”
“The global analysis looks at how climate and tourism policies are integrated and where we can find best practice.”
“All of this informs the Thailand project and we are hoping to present a Queensland – Thailand comparison at the end of it,” said Professor Becken.
For further information about this project or for more information on mainstreaming tourism climate change adaptation for government policy planners, please contact Professor Susanne Becken.
Feature Image: Ko Phi Phi Island Thailand – Meetin’ the world