A survey of tourists and tour operators in the Egyptian Red Sea region shows that the industry often misperceives its clients’ environmental sensitivity, putting its own business at risk. Climate change is a growing threat to the tourism industry by making destinations less attractive and jeopardizing major sources of income. The awareness of tourists towards climate change and other environmental issues is likely to be a major driver of their future holiday choices.
Some 540,000 people come annually to dive in the Red Sea to experience spectacular coral reefs, making up much of Egypt’s $7.8 billion tourism income last year.
“Whilst climate change may yet have to impact the Egyptian coral reef ecosystem, it is already having an impact on the perceptions and choices of dive tourists,” according to the survey carried out by Hurghada Environmental Protection and Conservation Association, analyzed by IUCN and funded by Kuoni.
The poll results suggest that while the majority of tourists are interested in operators that promote energy efficiency, environmental friendliness and climate awareness, the dive industry in the Red Sea region is largely unaware of this attitude and focuses its marketing more on the allegedly less environmentally-aware traditional dive tourist.
“Operators that do not adapt to this emerging ‘climate aware’ market risk losing market share to more responsive competitors” the study warns.
A total of 150 dive tourists from 19 nationalities and 35 tour operators were polled. Eighty percent of the tourists indicated they were concerned about climate change and its impact around the world, and 75 percent had heard about coral bleaching as one of these impacts. Climate change was listed as the third most important threat to the region by 25 percent of respondents.
Seventy-one percent of dive operators thought that some loss of coral in the region would not detract from a dive experience. Sixty-nine percent of dive operators felt that climate change issues were not important to their diving clients and 85 percent did not think that tourists select their holidays by considering how climate change is managed. Operators mostly (82 percent) thought that tourists were uninterested in their own climate footprint whilst on holiday. However, 86 percent agreed that coral reef condition would determine tourist numbers in the future and 93 percent were worried about the future of coral reefs in the region as a result of climate change.
“Climate affects a wide range of environmental resources that are essential attraction factors for tourism. The regional manifestations of climate change such as coral reef damage, extreme weather patterns or water shortages have potentially disastrous effects on many tourism destinations and tourism products,” says Matthias Lisinger, Head of Corporate Responsibility at Kuoni Travel Holding Ltd in a foreword to the study. “Raising awareness of this threat among local tour operators and resource managers is crucial to plan actions that can potentially mitigate future impacts to coral reefs and marine-based tourism”.