Johanna Nalau, Research Fellow, Griffith Institute for Tourism and Griffith Climate Change Response Program, Griffith University

Available information: shared by everyone?

The Pacific Islands are well-known tourism destinations with pristine marine environments, white sandy beaches and diverse cultures. The same weather and climate that enables the tropical environments to flourish is however also prone to extreme events. Cyclones that bring high winds, storm surges and flooding are of particular concern. The tourism industry which is often located in the coastal areas bears the brunt of adverse weather with decreased tourist arrivals and loss of business continuity.

In this context, weather and climate information clearly has a business value since having more accurate information can help in making timely decisions and also in planning ahead, for example when to close down an operation and how to develop contingencies for expected business disruptions. Information is now available almost 24-7 via multiple channels such as tv, radio and internet, including different social media platforms. There are also specific weather apps for smartphones and a range of weather related websites that can all track in real time approaching storms. But although this information is indeed available and often free of charge, not everyone is accessing and using it the same way. So how often do operators make use of weather information and what factors do result in differences how tourism operators in particular seek, access and use such information?

The relevant information and its use

We conducted a social science study in towns of Nadi and Suva in Fiji with both large and small tourism operators, and other tourism stakeholders. Our aim was to uncover the ways tourism operators access the available information, the preferred sources, and why they needed weather and climate information.

Most operators we spoke with used weather information daily. Their information needs depended on the nature of the operations but also the level of responsibility they had. Whilst updates on the weather, and also extreme events, were universally important, we also found that operators were not very informed when it came to longer term climate change. Climate change was a known issue, but did not appear of immediate concern that warranted active information search.

However, many operators would welcome better and more consistent information at a seasonal scale so that they could do some forward planning. For example, it could be helpful to know the timing of rain periods for next business year and whether there are potentially dry and hotter periods in the next two-three years. If there is a marked increase in extreme events, such as cyclones, then better predictions could help also in increasing such activities as cyclone-proofing of tourism infrastructure. Understanding seasonal patterns could be an important precursor for wanting to understand longer term cycles as well as climatic changes.

Three different models of information seeking behavior

We found distinct differences that consisted of three different groups that held in common particular factors for their behaviour.

The first group, “Independent Information Seekers” were individuals who held high managerial positions in their organisation and had long-term experience with weather professionally (e.g. through involvement in marine activities). These individuals felt very comfortable in interpreting weather phenomena by themselves, and they had often multiple websites and apps running at the same time on their computers and phones. For this group, it was very important to be on top of the situation, and distribute their analysis also to others who were dependent on their decisions for example regarding evacuation of marinas or areas. Practically some of them made their own weather as they tracked different information sources and constantly monitored the weather.

The second group, “Mediator Dependent Information Seekers”, consisted of managers who were less technologically savvy and did not feel they possessed adequate knowledge on the best websites and applications to get information. People in this group were more inclined to call their relatives back in Australia or New Zealand and ask for weather updates as the Australian and New Zealand weather information was deemed more accurate. This group of managers did not have high level of information literacy skills (how to navigate sites in the internet or which apps to download and use on their phone) and were less confident in their own ability to interpret information in the first place.

The third group, “Observational Information Seekers”, preferred to observe the weather themselves based on their past experience of the place or by traditional knowledge signs that they had been taught in their community. The indigenous Fijians did not rely on usual media (TV, radio, internet) but for example read star formations and the way clouds were moving. Often this kind of knowledge is held within communities and people together discuss what particular signs might mean and then interpret the weather.

Two-way communication about information needs and supply

Our study clearly showed that there is no uniform way that ‘stakeholders’ such as the tourism sector use in accessing and using the available information. This means that in thinking how to improve information availability and its uptake, we need to also have a very good contextual understanding about the diversity of ways that information is being accessed and the factors impacting on this process. If we do not know how people access even weather warnings, and why they trust particular sources, it is difficult to ensure that such information is relevant and accessible. In many cases this may not matter, but there are situation where timely and accurate information is life (or at least business) saving.

In the context of Fiji, the existing relationships between key players in the tourism and weather and climate space could be enhanced through closer collaboration at all levels. The Fiji Hotel Association, Fiji Meteorological Services, NaDraki Weather Service, and the many operators could discuss together how to provide tailored training that responds specifically to the tourism sector needs. This could even start from discussions around information literacy, the promotion and awareness of accessible weather and climate information and its interpretation.

The published article can be found in the Journal of Weather, Climate and Society