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For many tourists, climate conditions may determine how they plan their trip, orienting it towards a location with the ideal conditions for their chosen activity.

There are two specific and important aspects to the effect of climate change on the choice of tourism destination. Firstly, it can trigger direct effects in tourists linked to changes in thermal comfort. Secondly, climate change may also be decisive in determining the necessary conditions for certain activities (e.g. sufficient snow cover and thickness for skiing), and may cause environmental changes which have negative contextual effects. Specifically, aspects such as the presence or lack of certain emblematic fauna and flora, ecosystems quality, the state of iconographic natural formations and that of the environment in general could be affected by climate change and lead to a loss of tourism interest. 

From the Pyrenees Climate Change Observatory, we highlight the following climate change impacts in tourism industry:

Reduction of winter tourism appeal of ski resorts

Winter tourism is the main source of income and the driving force of local development in many areas of the Pyrenees. However, in recent years this sector of the tourism industry has been identified as being extremely vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

The significant increase in average, maximum and minimum winter temperatures recorded during the last century led to a decrease of the number of days with sufficient snow accumulation for the normal practice of the various types of alpine skiing, and the migrating of the snow line towards higher altitudes. The season start date has also been becoming gradually later (based on the availability of natural snow), with delays of between 5 and 55 days in low altitude resorts and between 5 and 30 days in mid-altitude resorts. This delay has economic implications and generally leads to a reduction in annual income.

Given the delay to the start of the snow season coincides with the period of greatest tourism demand, ski resorts are systematically forced to use artificial snow as a means of remaining operational. This has significant impacts on energy expenditure, not to mention the huge outlay in maintaining artificial snow machinery and environmental externalities associated with the growing water demand.

Furthermore, the increase in winter temperatures will also affect the ability to efficiently produce artificial snow, and lead not only to an increase in production costs but to a reduction in the number of suitable days for snowmaking.  


Evolution of the operating capability of ski resorts in the Pyrenees with and without artificial snow production for two different periods and scenarios (+2ºC for 2051-2070, and +4ºC for 2071-2100). The colours of the dots refer to predictions on the operating capability of ski resorts based on the scenarios. The blue dots represent ski resorts which are predicted to remain operational, yellow are those which will remain operational provided they produce artificial snow, and the red resorts will have difficulty operating some years, even using artificial snow as an adaptation measure. The size of the dots is proportional to the number of skiers received each year by each of the resorts studied. Source: Pons et al. 2015.

 

Climate change impact assessments are not very encouraging for the sector, but there may be substantial differences in the level of sensitivity and vulnerability of ski resorts in the Pyrenees to climate change, based on their geographical, topographical and managerial characteristics.  

 

Alteration of iconic elements of the Pyrenean landscape 

Another possible impact of climate change on tourism in the Pyrenees is linked to landscape changes and particularly to the accelerated degradation of certain iconic features of the alpine landscape, such as peat bogs, glaciers and lakes. 

Furthermore, the effects of global warming on biodiversity in the mountain range -such as physiological changes to forests, displacement of plant communities to higher altitudes, or a reduction in biodiversity -could, together with the degradation of the aforementioned iconic features, contribute to a reduction in the visual appeal of the  Pyreneen landscapes. The use of forests for recreational purposes could also be affected by an increased  forest fires risk, and by the possibility of some rivers and streams drying up or water quality being affected by reduced precipitation during some seasons of the year.
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Picture of Monte Perdido glacier in summer 1981 (left) and summer 2011 (right). Source: Lopez-Moreno et al., 2016.

 

 

Increased vulnerability of tourism infrastructure to hydrological and geological phenomena and to extreme weather events 

 

The influence of climate change on hydrological and extreme events risks induced or increased by climate change is an element of instability capable of causing serious damage to infrastructure which is directly and indirectly related to tourism in the Pyrenees (hotel complexes and rural apartments, mountain refuge, telecommunication networks, mountain roads and tourism trails), and in some cases may jeopardise the integrity of local populations. 

The potential implications of the hydrological and meteorological risks in the tourism sector include direct harm to people as well as damage to accommodation and tourism infrastructure. The potentially catastrophic hydrological and geological phenomena which are most susceptible to climate-induced variations include flash floods or those caused by more frequent intense precipitation, avalanches, and landslides caused by more frequent freeze-thaw cycles induced by greater climate variability.

 

 

 

Lengthening of the mountain tourism season 

Climate change could also have positive effects on mountain tourism. The longer summer season and progressively milder temperatures in spring and autumn, together with the minimum temperatures rise, could result in tourists opting for mountain destinations in place of others which will be progresivelly less thermically comfortable owing to higher temperatures. 

This could give the Pyrenees a competitive advantage over beach holiday areas. Tourists may gradually start choosing to holiday in the mountains instead of on the coast, where the higher average and maximum temperatures could significantly reduce the appeal of climate conditions at lower altitudes.

 

Recommendations

Tourism in the Pyrenees is particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. The magnitude of the projected impacts will depend in large part on the adaptation strategies adopted by the various involved parties (tourists, tour operators and management authorities) and on their capacity to implement adaptive management. 

This section summarises the main climate change challenges facing the Pyrenees tourism sector : 

  • Rethinking tourism models to strengthen the resilience of the sector against a future reduction in the number of skiable days and greater environmental pressure caused by its activities, whilst capitalising on emerging opportunities for nature and mountain tourism (mountain resort concept);

  • Reducing the vulnerability of tourism infrastructure to the possible increase in extreme and catastrophic hydrological, geological and climatic events, and safeguarding the physical integrity of tourists;
    Strengthening environmental management strategies and plans to reduce the vulnerability of the ecosystems and biodiversity of the Pyrenees, with a focus on sensitive alpine ecosystems (tarns, glaciers, peat bogs, etc.);

  • Ensuring balanced management of water resources in the tourism sector, particularly in basins supplied by rainwater.

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Technical Committee and executive board

Govern d'Andorra Région Nouvelle-Aquitaine Gobierno de Aragón Generalitat de Catalunya Eusko Jaurlaritza | Gobierno Vasco Occitanie Nafarroako Gobernua | Gobierno de Navarra


Steering committee and OPCC2 partners

FORESPIR CTP Universidad Zaragoza IPE - CSIC Conservatorie Botanique National EEAD - CSIC brgm


Cofinancers of the OPCC2 Project

Occitanie alima'agri POCTEFA Fundación Biodiversidad PIMA adapta

PYRENEAN CLIMATE CHANGE OBSERVATORY

Avenida Nuestra Señora de la Victoria, 8
22.700 - Jaca
Huesca - España

+34 974 36 31 00
info_opcc@ctp.org

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