Over the last six years, I have traveled around the world to scuba dive on stunning reefs from the Rainbow River in Florida to the Carribean Sea off the coast of Bonaire.
Coral reefs offer not only the most diverse ecosystems on our planet, but also sustain a $30 billion dollar scuba diving tourism business worldwide.1 For instance, “according to a report by the Key West chamber of commerce, tourists visiting the Florida Keys in the US generate at least $3 billion dollars in annual income, while Australia’s Great Barrier Reef generates well over $1 billion per year.”1 However, climate change threatens both the health of reefs and the tourism sustained by reefs and the accompanying wildlife. Rising sea temperatures – measured at a 0.1-degree Celsius increase in the past decade – have led to the death of coral reefs through a process called coral bleaching.2 The climate risk to coral reefs is correlated with a risk to diving tourism; as reef ecosystems diminish, tourists will be less likely to travel to effected diving destinations as shown in Table 1.
Table 1. Tourist Holiday Diving Preferences
|Dive Holiday Preferences||Tourists|
|More likely to choose ‘environmentally friendly’ operation||90%|
|Plan holiday according to dive experience expected||79%|
|Importance of climate change issues in choosing an operation||59%|
|Importance of management of climate change in selecting holiday destination||59%|
|Often talk about coral reef health and fish numbers with other dive tourists||76%|
Source: Data excerpted from Marshall, Nadine A. , Marshall, Paul A. , Abdulla, Ameer , Rouphael, Tony and Ali, Amr, “Preparing for climate change: recognising its early impacts through the perceptions of dive tourists and dive operators in the Egyptian Red Sea” (Current Issues in Tourism, 2010), p. 7, Table 1.
Kuoni Travel is one company that will be negatively affected by coral bleaching worldwide. Kuoni Travel is a UK organization that specializes in “luxury and tailor-made travel”; the tourism company was voted World’s Leading Luxury Touring Operator in 2014 by World Traveler awards.3 The company offers tourism packages to multiple scuba diving destinations in Africa, Asia, Australia and beyond. The environmental impacts of climate change on reefs—including “biodiversity losses, loss of coral cover and reduced reef aesthetic”— potentially lowers the destination appeal for scuba divers to effected locations.4 The decline in destination appeal ultimately threatens Kuoni’s business through diminishing tourism interest. This conclusion was supported by Kuoni’s corporate responsibility assessment:
“A destination with a poor image for sustainability and climate friendliness could rapidly decline as a preferred destination with tourists with a strong environmental conscience. In contrast, by changing operating practices and with the support of appropriate communication activities, particular tourism businesses, destinations or sectors can actually position themselves to benefit from changes in tourist’ attitudes rather than suffering negative impacts.”5
Kuoni strategically recognizes the threat of climate change, while also recognizing the potential opportunity a mitigation plan that leverages tourist attitudes presents.
To blunt the impact of climate change on Kuoni’s tourism business and play to environmentally conscious customers, the travel company has made a commitment to “measuring and reducing the carbon footprint of [their] operations, building adaptive capacity in the destinations and encouraging [their] customers to reduce their climate impact by offsetting their flight emissions.”5 In 2008, Kuoni partnered with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to protect coral reefs in Egypt and the Maldives, two popular tourism diving destinations. The collaboration has completed the following steps to mitigate the effects of climate change on coral reefs5:
- Implemented four coral reef monitoring training workshops for 40 marine biologists and dive guides across dive resorts
- Created five monitoring protocols, including Coral Point Count and BleachWatch
- Built four island and reef habitats maps outlining reef biodiversity
- Developed three reef management plans
The steps Kuoni and the IUCN are taking to mitigate the effects of climate change on coral reefs in Egypt and the Maldives are commendable. To further their impact, I recommend Kuoni scale their reef monitoring training workshops and monitoring protocols to additional diving resorts across their destination spectrum. Further, I recommend Kuoni include a carbon footprint associated with each travel offering to capture the environmental impact of customer flight travel and activity. To extend the customer awareness approach, Kuoni should offer customer discounts on trips that minimize carbon impact i.e. selecting a regional destination over a foreign destination to reduce flight emissions. By scaling their mitigation campaign and improving consumer awareness, Kuoni could improve their impact on coral reef health and benefit from the environmentally supportive attitudes of consumers.
- World Wildlife Federation, “Coral Reefs: Importance,”http://wwf.panda.org/about_our_earth/blue_planet/coasts/coral_reefs/coral_importance/, accessed November 2016.
- National Geographic, “Sea Temperature Rise,” http://ocean.nationalgeographic.com/ocean/explore/pristine-seas/critical-issues-sea-temperature-rise/, accessed November 2016.
- Kuoni, “Our Difference,” http://www.kuoni.co.uk/our-difference, accessed November 2016.
- Marshall, Nadine A. , Marshall, Paul A. , Abdulla, Ameer , Rouphael, Tony and Ali, Amr, “Preparing for climate change: recognising its early impacts through the perceptions of dive tourists and dive operators in the Egyptian Red Sea”, Current Issues in Tourism, 2010, iFirst article, 1–12, accessed November 2016.
- Kuoni, “Joining Forces With the IUCN to Protec Coral Reefs,” http://cr.kuoni.com/corp-responsibility2013/natural-resources/coral-reef-protection, accessed November 2016.