The 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics are currently in full swing, with 2,952 athletes from 92 countries competing in 102 events. Even as the Winter Olympics is growing the number of viable host locations is rapidly shrinking due to climate change.
Analysis by Climate Central suggests that only 11 of the 19 past Olympic host cities will be suitable for hosting the Games by the end of the century, even under a low emission scenario. This is a story that is being played out in regions all around the world, including Australia, with big implications for the future of winter tourism.
A report by the Climate Council shows that in 2011 alpine resorts were worth $2 billion per year and supported 25,000 jobs. However, between 2001 and 2012, the proportion of snow lovers visiting local slopes has declined 30 per cent, driven by declining snow depth and season length. Unless these alpine areas can increase 'green season' tourism there will be significant job and revenue losses in these regions.
The impacts of climate change on Australian tourism extend well beyond the alpine regions with potential negative impacts on the Great Barrier Reef, Uluru and many of Australia's other natural attractions. Nature-based tourism forms a significant part of the local economy in many regional areas, particularly in more rural regions. For example in regional Victoria tourism is estimated to account for 6 per cent of regional employment.
Whilst the tourism industry clearly has a strong future in Australia, regions should be prepared for the risks of climate change to local tourism and other industries. A recently published Productivity Commission report highlights three main priorities to help improve the capability of regions to adapt in the face of change:
- removing regulatory impediments to growth
- improving the effectiveness of regional planning and expenditure
- identifying occasions where specialised transition assistance may be appropriate.
Regional development initiatives should focus on these priorities to help support the regions through the challenges ahead.
In the United States, some ski seasons are forecast to be 50 percent shorter by 2050 and 80 percent shorter by 2090, and the effect of this extends beyond professional athletes. Winter sports generate $72bn a year in the US and support nearly 700,000 jobs.