From the shores of New Jersey to the Colorado highlands, resort owners, communities and government leaders are scrambling to adjust to climate change. NOAA defines climate change as a long-term shift in statistics of the weather, such as average rainfall and temperature. That is a dry definition, especially when climate affects your business, your home and your health. When climate changes, it changes everything.
Climate (from Greek klima, for “surface of the earth) is weather that the sun worshippers, sailors, tourists, and skiers seek. So when there is significant a change in the weather, this changes the attraction of resorts. And that affects the bottom line of hospitality venues, their communities, and the jobs generated. Climate change is the number one thing that resort owners and resort community leaders must admit to, and focus upon.
Weather is the Economy
Let’s say a western town is built around a historic hotel and dude ranch nestled in pine and fir-treed covered canyons. For the past decade at least, drought has settled over the western states. The mountains and canyons have grown tinder-dry. Mountain pine beetles chew their way through thousands of acres, deadwood forests prone to mass wildfires that blacken the landscape and threaten to consume the resort town. For the leaders and residents here, climate change is not a vague if, nor even a when, but a NOW. Or consider the nearby ski resorts that receive less snow or too much snow too late to satisfy skiers that invest a bundle to find prime powder, say in March–but the snow never comes like it used to. Will the skiers come back? And what about sun worshippers forced to cancel vacations when officials order another hurricane evacuation?
Present-day climate change is rough on the tourism economy. Destination resorts, cradled in beautiful, enticing natural resources, are exposed to greater risk.Consider the cost of environmental damage to resort amenities, infrastructure, and communities when nature runs amuck. The data shows that now weather is more variable, subject to wilder swings of drought or deluge. And if there is one thing that stresses the tourism economy, it is unpredictability.
Climate change throws unsettling variables into financial planning. For municipalities, variability in sales revenues and accommodations “bed taxes” erode confidence in making municipal improvements. This, in turn, impacts local resorts that traditionally have relied on local government services — passable roads, water supply and treatment, storm protection, police and fire services. How long does it take a resort community to recover from a “weather disaster” to patch up resort-dependent economy? At what cost? And how much more frequently will such events occur with climate in flux?
How the resort industry can lead
Resort owners, local government leaders, and citizen stakeholders are not handless maidens, as told in Grimm’s fairy-tale, helpless to save themselves from loss when times and nature turn tough. Resorts can proactively plan and maintain their holdings both as ecosystems and economic systems, saving places and jobs. For resort owners, the best offense is a good defense. Look for new leaders to emerge from the resort-hospitality industry, capitalist-realists who see climate change, admit it, and do something about the new normal.