THE FIRST “TOURISTS” came to the SoutheastCoast more than 20,000 years ago. Evidence of tools and animal bones indicate that nomadic Paleolithic (“Paleo” or “Stone Age”) cultures migrated across North America to the South Atlantic Coast. They hunted large game, such as mastodons, giant ground sloths, and bison in woodlands, and harvested shellfish in tidal creeks and marshes. The sea level had receded nearly 70 miles east during the Wisconsin Period or “Ice Age”) of global cooling (Soltzer, 1974). A natural cycle of climate change began the prolonged warming period, continuing to the present time. Results included sea level rise due to the melting of continental glacial ice, forcing the Paleo nomads and game animals inland. These big game hunters had relied on a climate-limited food supply; and when that food supply declined, they declined, as well. Adapt or perish: this is the Natural Law of Resilience.
As the climate warmed, bountiful natural resources drew new cultures to the Northeast, Southeast, and Gulf Coast. Woodland-period native tribes remained in the region until European colonization. Escamacu Indians inhabited Hilton Head and neighbor islands. They lived sustainably—hunting plentiful game, harvesting shellfish, and tending native gardens in walled villages. Yet, by the 1500s, the Escamacu fell prey to an insurmountable impact: European colonists. Through superior weaponry and spreading of disease Europeans shredded the fabric of the Native Americans’ resource-dependent lifestyle. The Escamacu were unprepared for such threats. This was the undoing of their culture. They could not adapt and adjust to this change. It is a lesson for our time, and all time.
THE VALUE OF TOURISM: WHAT IS AT STAKE? Over the past several hundred years, tourism development has become one of the largest, most productive industries on the planet. According to the World Travel Tourism Council (WTTC), tourism accounts for nearly 10 percent of global GDP:
IS SUSTAINABLE TOURISM DEVELOPMENT ENOUGH? Knowing the difference between sustainable and resilient tourism is the key to guiding the long-term success of resorts. We must differentiate the two values to assure the long-term health, safety and wellbeing of today’s resorts and their communities.
The World Bank defines Sustainable Development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” This description is purposefully generalized to allow for site-specific application and innovation. While resorts may admirably employ vigorous sustainable practices, more is needed to ensure the long-term survival of tourism resorts and their communities.
THE RESILIENCY PROOF In contrast with sustainable development, resiliency is “the capacity of an ecosystem to maintain desired services in the face of a growingly unstable environment and changing human use.” This determination includes three measurable, real-world factors:
- Performance (financial/economic stability);
- Exposure (ability to withstand or overcome environmental and other impacts);
- Time (fiscal year, resort season, or other time period).
Based upon these descriptors, resiliency should be the empiric measure for evaluating resort developments and their communities. Resort properties are located in scenic, sometimes isolated, natural areas. Resorts depend on their natural resources, cultural sites, recreational access, and comfortable guest accommodations. Yet, by their nature, resorts are the most exposed and therefore, vulnerable to environmental risks. These risks include sea level rise, hurricanes and tropical storms, nor’easters, shoreline erosion, drought, low snowfall, floods, wildfire, and pollution events (examples: the Gulf Coast oil spills; Lake Tahoe algal blooms), loss of wetlands and seafood resources, damage to facilities and infrastructure, and thus: property degradation and declining visitor numbers.
Resort owners, planners, and local officials must account for the long-term risk-cost of resort development, using the practical metric of Resiliency: For example: A seaside resort produces $50 million in annual revenue (performance) and is not exposed to natural or other impacts in a 2-year time period. Its Resiliency Score is 25.Compare a second scenario: In the same 2-year span, this resort is impacted by a hurricane, massive wildfire, or pollution. Visitation declines and annual revenue sinks to $5 million. The resort’s Resiliency Score is 2.5. If the environmental impacts continue unabated, the score will plummet further.
THE VALUE OF RESILIENCY Resilient resorts are proactive in their industry, community and environment. Resilience is a widely accepted method of planning for long-term success—and adaptive defense for the uncertain future:
A resilient resort researches, and stays informed of the current findings on climate change—globally and locally; and plans how to adapt to this risk. Examples: how to increase water conservation; methods to naturally withstand sea level rise, hurricane damage; enhanced wildfire mitigation.
- A resilient resort identifies new destinations and quickly adapts to accommodate new market demands and opportunities.
- A resilient resort knows that its natural resources are its paramount asset, and invests in long-term conservation of lands, waters, wildlife, and recreational access.
- A resilient resort invests in research and knowledge to identify upcoming trends as well as potential new technologies that will benefit its bottom line. Example: as early as the 1960s resorts such as the Broadmoor (Colorado Springs), Palmas del Mar (Puerto Rico), and Sea Pines Resort (Hilton Head Island) identified and implemented popular nature-based tourism programs, long before they were named “Eco-tours.”
- A resilient resort encourages hiring locally.
- A resilient resort is proactive in supporting community upgrades that ensure environmental protection, parks and recreation, high quality public transportation and public access. A resort can only be successful if it is associated with a resilient community—and visa versa.
- A resilient resort assiduously manages risk by staying informed about best techniques for environmental protection—and implements these defensive techniques before imminent threats occur.
- A resilient resort collaborates with other resorts and businesses to increase environmental awareness and readiness.
- A successful resort knows that resilience raises all boats.
THE WAY FORWARD The resort development industry faces a new reality in climate change. What the future holds is only partly predictable. In recent decades resorts have experienced increasing environmental risks causing growing financial impacts. The mantle of sustainability does not accurately predict the new impacts, nor prepare resort owners for future events.
Resilience is the ability to adapt, absorb an impact, and recover. For resort owners and developers, building resilience into planning, development and operations is the best investment for sustaining success in a rapidly changing world. Moreover, it is a MUST.
For more information:
CERES: Building Resilient Cities: From Risk Assessment to Redevelopmenthttp://www.ceres.org/resources/reports/building-resilient-cities-from-risk-assessment-to-redevelopment/view
Ecological Survey of the Coastal Region of Georgia: Sea Level Data. Johnson, Hillstead ,and Holtzer. National Park Service. 1974.
Swiss Re: Shaping Climate-resilient Development http://www.swissre.com/rethinking/climate_and_natural_disaster_risk/