Climate Change and Tourism
Caitlan Vultaggio, Community Resilience Fellow, discusses the dual challenges of preserving historical heritage and adapting to climate change, as extreme weather events impact tourism and highlight the global failure to meet climate targets.
In July, I had the opportunity to leave Vacationland and escape to one of the most popular tourist destinations: Italy. I was there on vacation, in hopes of escaping the endless doom and gloom of climate work to relax, eat pizza, drink wine, and explore everything this history-rich country has to offer!
Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for the climate anxiety to creep back in. The first day we arrived in Rome it was 106 degrees fahrenheit. Growing up in New York, I was not used to these temperatures. The moment I walked outside, I was immediately covered in a layer of inescapable sweat. We had booked a tour through the Colosseum and Roman Forum. As we were walking, I noticed that my shoe made a footprint on the asphalt. I looked up and government workers were handing out water to heat exhausted tourists and an ambulance was there to check the blood pressure of some tourists. Hordes of people were seeking relief in the little tree cover in the Forum. The record-breaking heat wave was only one of many extreme weather events Italy experienced in July.
As we were just getting used to being in a permanent state of sweat, we were cooled down by an intense thunderstorm in Venice. Little did we know, just a few miles over, near Milan, there was a deadly hailstorm which injured dozens, damaged cars, smashed windows, knocked down trees, and destroyed critical infrastructure. Meanwhile, in Sicily, wildfires ravaged towns, burning churches and centuries of ancient history. Airports were closed, tourists left in droves, vineyards destroyed, and local economies are still identifying effects.
Italy, Europe, the United States, and the rest of the world continue to miss every climate target to reduce fossil fuel consumption and we are feeling the consequences. Extreme events like wildfires can destroy historical structures that have been around for centuries. Destruction of Italy’s cultural and historical structures will also have economic effects due to a reduction in tourism. Tourism is the country’s biggest industry and many cities rely on it, but if there is no “Leaning Tower” in Pisa, how many people would still visit? Further, rampant wildfires and deadly heat waves may change tourist patterns, some argue it already has.
In conjunction with eliminating the usage of fossil fuels, in order for us to adapt to climate change and mitigate its effects, we need to change the ways our cities were built. Some examples are, incorporating more green structures, reducing the number of gasoline powered cars, and refitting infrastructure to be resilient to future climate projections. But incorporating green spaces could be difficult when the historical piazzas, constructed over hundreds of years ago, are entirely concrete. Many Italian cities also haven’t changed in centuries, largely due to the national law to protect the cultural heritage. How do you preserve the historical importance of one of the greatest empires in all of human civilization while adapting to the changing climate? Addressing that question is becoming more pressing as we experience these devastating effects of climate change.
Being confronted with climate change in Italy has made me think of how climate change has affected tourism in Maine. While Maine hasn’t experienced extreme heat this summer, increased rainfall has reportedly hurt outdoor tourism. Tourist boats reduced their trips due to the rain and fog, while some indoor businesses, like museums, saw an increase in tourists. This is just another reason why businesses, no matter the industry, need to assess the risks climate change will bring to their business. Incorporating climate change into their strategic planning now will help ensure long term viability of their businesses.
Caitlan is from Long Island, New York. She received a B.S. from Stony Brook University with a double-major in Business Management and Environmental Studies. During her last year in college, Caitlan applied both her business and environmental knowledge as a Research Assistant to Dr. Sara Hamideh where she analyzed the market for coastal resilience bonds in Charleston, SC. The bonds would serve as proactive mitigation for the adverse effects of climate change and ignited her interest in city planning and community resilience. Caitlan also spent a month in Tanzania, conducting research on water quality and studying the intersections of healthcare, culture, and the environment in a developing country. As a Resilience Corps Fellow, Caitlan is excited to embrace community-led approaches to environmental issues and to gain the perspectives and skills needed to promote resilient communities and equitable climate action. In her free time, Caitlan enjoys traveling, cooking, exercising, and sitting by the ocean.