Fires, Floods, and the Future: Sustainable Tourism’s Potential to Support Climate Resilience

In the face of a summer season of wildfires that have broken records and impacted countless communities, both ecological and human, more and more discussion is happening in post-pandemic Canada about just how resilient our communities and businesses are when natural disasters arrive on their doorstep.

As this article is being written, there are 379 fires burning in British Columbia, 236 burning in the Northwest Territories and many more across the country. More than 30,000 people have been evacuated from their homes and towns, and a similar number are on evacuation alert. Tourists were ordered to stay away, and the industry rallied quickly to reopen, but the impacts were felt by many businesses. This has been coupled with major flooding and fires in other parts of Canada, and around the world, throughout the summer. While wildfires and flooding are natural occurrences, the severity and frequency of these events are driven by changes in climate. Crises elevate the conversation about how communities can mitigate and adapt to climate impacts and be more resilient, but often once the water subsides and the smoke drifts away, the urgency and importance can be quickly forgotten.

 “Community resilience is the ability of a community to recover from a disaster or persist sustainably in the face of a new, ongoing hardship.” – Urban Footprint.

The tourism industry interacts with every facet of the Canadian economy, from roads to airports, to our pristine natural landscapes. This interconnection underscores the significant capacity AND potential of the tourism industry to drive transformative change. So, what role can the tourism industry play in creating resilience in the communities in which we operate? As the world marks World Tourism Day later this month (September 27th), with a theme of green investments in tourism, tourism businesses and destinations can amplify this theme by further investing in resilience and sustainability. 

The green transformation of the tourism sector is very much needed, not just for the planet, but also for tourism itself, for boosting competitiveness and increasing resilience, and green investments and innovation in the tourism sector must play a leading role to support this transformation and the implementation of the green goals of the Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals.” – UN World Tourism Organization – Concept Note for World Tourism Day 2023

In practical terms, tourism businesses and destinations can invest in resilience and sustainability by following these key steps:

  • Commit – Join a global sustainable tourism movement to help make tourism a force for good. Show your commitment, and take the Sustainable Tourism 2030 pledge, or sign on to the Glasgow Declaration. Demonstrating your commitment publicly keeps you accountable and helps inspire others to do the same, thereby growing the impact the tourism industry can have.
  • Plan Build an action plan, this is the best investment you can make on your journey. Establish stretch goals for greening your business or destination, and reducing your environmental impacts by enhancing energy efficiency, managing waste, conserving water, and making impactful purchasing choices. Map the actions that will allow your business or destination to be more resilient, sustainable, and regenerative in the face of change. These actions will have a ripple effect on the industry and the community.
  • Act – Put your action plan into action! Each action will improve the sustainability of your business, and the resilience to be able to withstand shocks and stresses that may occur in the future (both natural and manmade). Use the quieter shoulder seasons to take action, allowing you to focus on being of service during your busy season. Some example actions you can add to your action plan and put into place include, developing an emergency and disaster management plan, undertaking a purchasing analysis to measure your local impact through purchasing decisions, or reviewing how you can monitor and save energy in your business.

To amplify efforts further, look to build community and connect with other tourism organizations, local governments, non-profits, and businesses. By working collectively and engaging in collaborative efforts, the challenges become less daunting and we’ll achieve our goals more quickly.

Resources: UNWTO Concept Note – World Tourism Day 2023