A Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment of a Tourism Destination Community (A Case-Study of Oistins, Barbados)
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The Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has documented substantial evidence for human influence as the dominant cause of global climate change. As some degree of further climate change is inevitable, natural and human systems are faced with a range of impacts they must adapt to. Small island developing states (SIDS) are widely considered to be highly vulnerable to climate change, for which appropriate adaptation measures need to be planned and implemented. SIDS are also key tourist attractions with tourism representing significant part of national and community economies. As the sector is highly exposed to climate change, further research is needed regarding its adaptation, particularly in countries where tourism is a major component of future development strategies. Additional research is also needed to understand climatic and non-climatic stressors that influence the vulnerability of tourism dependent communities and their households, including methods that facilitate comparative assessments. This dissertation seeks to understand climate change vulnerability at the tourism destination community scale in a small island developing state. The research is guided by two goals: 1) To examine the influence of climatic and non-climatic stressors on the pre-existing vulnerability of a destination community, including its local tourism stakeholders; and 2) To employ and compare two methods (an indicator approach and a Community-Based Vulnerability Assessment (CBVA) approach) to assess vulnerability across and within the community and determine whether either or both can advance knowledge gaps in this understanding at the destination community scale. This research was carried out in the tourism destination community of Oistins, Barbados, in the eastern Caribbean. The Caribbean is considered a ‘tourism climate change vulnerability hotspot’ by the United Nations World Tourism Organization, as it has the most tourism intensive economy in the world and because climate change impacts to its sector are predicted to be significant. Oistins is a key tourist attraction in Barbados, due to its beaches, hotels and restaurants, the Bay Garden Vendors Area and the Oistins Fish-Market, which are all at risk from an increase in climate-related events. The research undertook a mixed methods case-study. A national tourism sector vulnerability assessment was completed via a critical review and empirical analysis of the literature, which contextualized the Oistins’ community scale vulnerability assessment and informed its potential adaptation choices. Field work for the indicators and CBVA was also carried out in 2010 and 2011. Approximately 150 individuals participated in the research, including tourism stakeholders i) whose livelihoods were most connected to the tourism related activities of the destination community, ii) who lived in two neighbourhoods (households) adjacent to its key attractions and iii) who were decision-makers and/or tourism, government and community representatives (key informants). Five focus groups were held with key informants to develop destination-community and household level indicators. Some of the destination-community indicators were applied through data collection and the household indicators applied through the collection and analysis of neighbourhood surveys. Individuals were also consulted via CBVA interviews representing vendors, fishers, beach activities, accommodation and restaurants and key institutional informants. The national tourism vulnerability assessment indicates that studies have examined climate change and tourism at the Caribbean or national level, with only a few having addressed adaptation and if so not comprehensively. No studies have examined destination-community level vulnerability. Furthermore, Barbados’ tourism sector is and will experience a range of climatic and non-climatic stressors. Mid-century scenario planning predicts a doubling of tourism arrivals to the island, yet does not account for increased water scarcity or the long-term degradation of tourism infrastructure and assets due to sea level rise. The assessment thereby suggests that the island transformatively adapt its tourism sector, by reconsidering the emphasis and location of its infrastructure and attractions, while diversifying its economic activities as a whole. This could involve Barbados emphasizing luxury facilities and catering to fewer tourists along a protected west coast, where communities such as Oistins could maintain cultural attractions on an increasingly degraded south coast. With regards to goal #1, the CBVA results suggest that Oistins interviewees were exposed to minor and local level impacts of climatic stressors, though recent non-climatic stressors were found to be causing far more adverse impacts. Tourist enjoyment of tourism-related facilities was not being affected by observed climate variability, though their numbers and spending had been affected substantially by non-climatic stressors such as the global economic crisis of 2008. Individuals working within small to mid-scale operations faced the highest exposure-sensitivity and lowest adaptive capacity to both types of stressors and resulting impacts to their livelihoods. The manner in which stakeholders are coping with present multiple stressors and plan to adapt to future changes, provides some insight in how they could adapt to near-term changes in climate. In regards to future climate change exposure sensitivities, vulnerabilities were not well understood in the destination community, as stakeholders were focused on near-term or minor weather changes, not the more significant long-term or severe impacts of climate change, such as sea-level rise, ecosystem changes or mitigation policy and the mobility of international tourists. In terms of goal #2, this research determined that the indicator and CBVA methods were limited in advancing the understanding of climate change tourism vulnerability of the community level study area. Destination community indicators were most applicable if a defined boundary was determined to collect relevant data, though even then data was lacking for the majority of indicators at that scale. Household level indicators provided useful information on socioeconomic determinants to understand stakeholder dependence on tourism-related livelihoods, though analysis was found to be more worthwhile at the parish and national levels. Of both methods, the CBVA approach provided a more comprehensive assessment and offered some value in community-based adaptation. For the tourism sector, the CBVA also provided novel information by highlighting that most stakeholders identified vulnerabilities and adaptation measures occurred above the destination community scale. Among the original contributions of this research, two are key. The first is that local stakeholder led adaptation was not found effective to reduce tourism vulnerability, suggesting that sectoral and community-level adaptations are not always consistent. The adaptive strategies suggested by stakeholders differed by scale, with some that could be undertaken locally by destination-community stakeholders and others that would require the support of national or international stakeholders. Second, this research advances methodology at a broader community-scale, by suggesting that both methods work in combination to address certain limitations of each. Certain applicable destination-community indicators could identify vulnerable systems within the destination community and monitor long-term some of the processes and contexts of the baseline vulnerability detailed with the CBVA approach. The CBVA approach could also collect qualitative data for the conceptually relevant indicators that were not found applicable at the destination community or household scale, to provide descriptive and disaggregated information to assist with local adaptation planning efforts. The results of this research provide several contributions to theory, practice and policy. Theoretically, the research demonstrated the assessment of tourism sector vulnerability of SIDS to multiple stressors at several scales. The empirical results propose enhancing local stakeholders’ adaptive capacity to current stressors, including increasing their understanding of climate change and its predicted impacts to the tourism sector and to their destination-community. Barbados’ tourism industry also benefits from this research, as it identifies gaps pertaining to the understanding of sector vulnerability at several scales and highlights areas in which it can build adaptive capacity and adapt. Methodologically, the results show how an indicator and CBVA approach could be used in combination if a broader assessment is required at a community level. Stakeholders also concluded that in future, for SIDS the size and density of Barbados, it would be more useful to define and develop indicators for a national tourism destination. In summary, this research has contributed to the further understanding of vulnerability in small island tourism dependent communities, thereby informing more effective sectoral and community-based adaptation initiatives.