Environmental Resilience for a Better Community and a Better Tourism Product
Virgin Islands Capital Resources, Inc.
Hurricanes Harvey, Maria, Irma and the wildfire outbreaks in California are only the most recent reminders of the fragility of community wellbeing when disaster strikes. When that community’s economy depends on its local tourism product, the potential for long-term damage increases.
These disasters highlight the importance of a policy and planning approach that considers the resilience and adaptability of the local community alongside its tourism product.
In previous posts, I focused on how a sustainable tourism product can, over time, offer greater benefits to a community. These benefits also help contribute to a stronger, faster recovery after disaster strikes. Equally important is the need to focus on building community resilience before a disaster, through careful planning and capacity building.
Professor Alan A. Lew of Northern Arizona University urges the importance of resilience planning in his blog post “Creative Resiliency: the Next Sustainability for Tourism?”. He notes that sustainable tourism addresses “slow change issues” in the market—the commercialization of a community’s cultural center, or the erosion of a natural landmark, for example. Alternatively, resilience planning prepares the community to anticipate, withstand, and address sudden disasters.
The different concerns of sustainable tourism and resilience mean that their intended outcomes are different as well. While the goal of sustainable tourism is to maximize the community’s benefits from its tourism industry, Lew says the goal of resiliency is to allow a community “…to maintain a normal level of service in the face of periodic or unpredictable external shocks or system failures” from natural disasters.
Sustainable tourism does help a community better regain its footing after a disaster, but a resilience approach that informs infrastructure development, land use planning, and other community projects work to minimize a disaster’s immediate impact. Improved community resilience might help prevent catastrophic events that undermine the viability of a community and its tourism product. This prevention becomes especially important when the community depends on tourism for its economic well-being.
Lew’s article expresses skepticism of vague attributes ascribed to sustainability. He notes, however, that much of sustainability also supports resiliency. The practical tenets of sustainable tourism—community engagement, a focus on local culture, responsible use of environmental resources, and a prioritization of local needs and interests—work hand-in-hand with community resilience planning.
However, by recognizing the different goals of resiliency planning, a community formulates an appropriate and diverse approach to protect itself and its tourism product against natural disaster. In short, it broadens the community’s toolkit for addressing such occurrences.
The difficulty of discussing how best to build a more resilient tourism product is that solutions are quite area-specific. Nonetheless, Acclimatize, a climate response advisory firm, describes one real-world approach that offers some insight into creating a symbiotic relationship between a community’s environmental resilience and its tourism product.
Gracie Pearsall’s post, “Using Eco-tourism to Adapt to Climate Change in the Philippines,” focuses on the Philippines province of Albay and its efforts to address climate change and community disaster resilience using revenue from its tourism product.
Albay benefits from rich natural resources that greatly enhance local tourism initiatives—tropical forests, clear waters, and a vibrant ecosystem—but due to these same resources, it also faces increased pressure from climate change and natural disaster. Given its location and environment, Albay must contend with rising sea levels and volatile weather systems, as well as frequent “shocks” to its system in the form of volcanic eruptions and typhoons.
Importantly, Albay recognized the importance of its tourism industry to the region’s wellbeing and development. Partially as a result of this, Pearsall notes, the local government developed a “world-renowned disaster risk reduction strategy.”
Following Typhoon Durian in 2006, the government rebuilt with an eye on developing more resilient infrastructure that would not only address community needs, but also contribute to the ongoing health of the tourism industry. The government would then use the revenues derived from the local tourism industry to fund new improvements to infrastructure.
Albay’s government built new roads to better connect communities and make the province more accessible to visitors, bolstering area tourism and increasing its profit from tourism throughout the province. Government revenues resulting from increased tourism spending and more economically productive area businesses in turn funded more extensive resilience planning and infrastructure construction.
Income from this expanded tourism industry also funded the region’s now internationally recognized “zero-casualty strategy,” as Imelda Visaya Abano discusses in her article, “In the Philippines, a Model for Confronting Climate Change and Nearly Every Disaster You Can Think of.”
This strategy is born out of a proactive and innovative approach to building resilience. In the article, Abano notes that the Albay city of Legazpi has “become something of a laboratory for urban resilience.” The provinces governor at the time, Joey Salceda, identified homes and businesses at risk in every kind of disaster scenario, using the information to develop better early warning systems and evacuation strategies.
This commitment to resilience also inspired community relocation strategies and improved land use plans, such as planting mangrove forests to provide a natural buffer against storm surges, tsunamis, and sea-level rise. Such land use practices maintain and fortify the natural attributes of the Albay region, which are so important to the province’s tourism industry.
Albay’s approach is defined by its pro-activity and commitment to facing its vulnerabilities head on. By building projections of the worst of what communities can expect from natural disaster, Albay was able to identify areas that should be considered “no-build zones” given their susceptibility to damage during a natural disaster.
Such designations prevent construction of businesses and homes in areas most likely to be damaged in a natural disaster, thus minimizing its impact on the community’s way of life as well the local tourism product.
Because of careful planning and creative measures such as these, Albay can more effectively address the needs of its communities and ensure an appropriate level of service to visitors following natural disasters. In a sense, there is a symbiosis between the aspirations of a community and its tourism product: tourism has helped fund initiatives that increase community resilience, which in turn have helped strengthen the regional tourism product.
Through careful planning, a practical approach, and a commitment to building community resiliency and strengthening the destination is better prepared to anticipate, address, and perhaps avoid future hardship.