Devastating fires in Hawaii and British Columbia, extreme heat in Europe: climatic hazards stood in the way of many travelers this summer. As climate change accelerates, scientists believe these events will occur more regularly. But rather than dampening the enthusiasm of travelers, these threats could, in the short term, have the opposite effect.
Having become a symbol of the consequences of global warming in France, the Montenvers-Mer-de-glace glacier attracts visitors every year who come to witness its disappearance. This glacier in the Mont Blanc massif melts 5 to 8 meters per year.
The Sea of Ice, like the Great Barrier Reef, Antarctica, Venice and even Churchill, Manitoba, known for its polar bears, attract fans of what researchers call “last chance tourism,” which consists of going to observe ecosystems threatened with disappearing in the medium term. Even if this phenomenon is still marginal, its acceleration is “one of the easiest predictions to establish”, according to the French geographer Rémy Knafou, author of the essay Reinventing tourism – Putting an end to the hypocrisies of sustainable tourism, published in Quebec last June.
“If there is not a minimum of understanding at the international level and strong symbolic messages to show that it is necessary to enter a new phase in our history, both in our relationship to the Earth and in our tourist history, there is unfortunately almost every chance of thinking that this last-chance tourism will accelerate”, affirms the professor emeritus of the University of Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, who advocates, in his essay, the sanctuary of Antarctica.
Skiing in the Alps, one of Rémy Knafou’s research areas, is already under threat, with several low-altitude ski resorts having been dismantled.
In Quebec, the reduction in cold windows and the increase in mild spells will also affect the practice of alpine skiing in the south of the province. An economic analysis carried out by Ouranos in 2019 notes that “in the absence of adaptation, the opening, the duration of the season and the percentage of the ski area open will be affected”. “I don’t think there will be the disappearance of certain activities, but they will be further weakened,” believes Chantal Quintin, specialist in research and knowledge transfer at Ouranos, an organization that supports the tourism industry in adaptation. to climate change.
Thus, ski resorts will have to adapt, not only by relying on artificial snow, but by diversifying their offer over four seasons, underlines Ms. Quintin, recalling that sustainable tourism must take into account the economic, social and environmental, current and future.
To protect against overtourism, some countries could restrict the number of visitors authorized to enter their territory, impose a tourist tax, like Bhutan, or a compulsory reservation with entry fee, as planned in Venice.
In a context of diminishing natural and energy resources, will we decide to conserve them for local communities? asks Pascale Marcotte who, at the time of the interview, was a full professor in the geography department at Laval University and director of the certificate in sustainable tourism. “Last year we saw droughts in France, this year in Spain. When we no longer have water for our community, are we happy to see visitors arriving? »
More abundant spring floods, episodes of high heat in summer, extreme rains in the fall: for the Quebec tourism industry, the challenges will vary depending on the region and the seasons, explains Chantal Quintin. Among the most affected tourist areas are the coastal municipalities of eastern Quebec as well as the Îles-de-la-Madeleine. Frequented in the summer by many Quebecers, who have found somewhere else to call home, the coasts of this mythical archipelago have retreated by 55 centimeters per year on average from 2005 to 2020. Several mitigation measures have been put in place, such as riprap, sand refills, as well as raising visitors’ awareness of the fragility of the coastline.
Professor in the department of urban and tourism studies at the University of Quebec in Montreal, Dominic Lapointe guides stakeholders in the Madelinian tourism industry in their adaptation. For this social science researcher, it is a “transformation of outlook” and of the close relationship with the sea that is to be expected for visitors. Anyone who regularly visits the archipelago cites as an example the beach nourishment work carried out on the historic site of La Grave, which changes the appearance of the landscape.
It is the tourist imagination itself linked to the Saint-Laurent which must be reviewed, he adds, since staying by the sea may no longer be possible. “This attraction to the water will not disappear, but it will change,” he predicts, possibly leading to greater accessibility to the coastline which will no longer be so subject to private interests.
If the pandemic has allowed Quebecers to discover their province, this trend could take root, according to the experts consulted, in particular because the cost of travel could continue to increase. “As consumers, we will perhaps realize that the price we were paying until now was not a fair price, in the sense that it did not take externalities into account,” says Pascale Marcotte.
In the future, some people could be forced to give up flying, either for economic reasons, or because a system of carbon quotas has been established, or, like Rémy Knafou, by personal convictions.
That said, although he writes that, since it has not always existed, tourism could disappear, the professor does not really believe that this will happen. “Tourism is part of our way of life and even the populations of the world who do not have access to it have the hope of accessing it one day. We have to live with tourism, but we have to adapt it. »
Adapting it also means moving towards sustainable mobility and public transport. In this regard, Quebec and North America are lagging far behind, while in Europe we are witnessing a return to train travel, particularly with the start of several cross-border night line projects. Will the high-speed train linking Montreal to Toronto arrive before carbon-free long-haul planes? The bets have been made.