PEI

Tourism 'can't be a blind spot' for climate change strategy

Prince Edward Island’s tourism industry faces a two-pronged problem as it prepares a climate change strategy, says a visiting researcher who specializes in tourism and climate change.

Beaches around the world are changing

The P.E.I. government is already measuring shoreline erosion. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

Prince Edward Island's tourism industry faces a two-pronged problem as it prepares a climate change strategy, says a visiting researcher who specializes in tourism and climate change.

Prof. Daniel Scott, the research chair in climate and society at the University of Waterloo, said thinking about climate change and the economy often focuses on sectors such as agriculture, transportation and energy.

"Tourism often gets left behind but in places like P.E.I. it's a huge part of the economy," said Scott.

"That can't be a blind spot."

To start with, he said, the province is going to have to think about how climate change is going to affect the beaches. Coastal erosion is a concern for beaches all over the world. That there will be change is not a question.

"Everybody's going to face the same challenge, so it's going to be transformational in that respect for coastal tourism if that's your central product," he said.

Fixing beaches destroyed by storms can be prohibitively expensive, he said. He noted when Cancun lost half its beach to a hurricane it spent more than $100 million restoring it. But he added that sand ripped away from one section of a shoreline will usually land somewhere else, which means another option is to adapt, and move your tourism beach locations with the sand.

Greening the industry

Tourism operators are going to have to increasingly consider how to market their products as environmentally-friendly, said Scott.

Some locales have already done this, he said. Costa Rica markets itself as a climate neutral destination.

This will mean things like more electric vehicle charging stations as well as electrifying public transit and heating and cooling systems. Scott said there is a clear opportunity for the Island here.

A volunteer plants marram grass to shore up a protective dune at St. Peters Harbour beach. (Submitted by Sean Landsman)

"With the wind power you've got, potential tidal, more wind power, can this be a marketing opportunity? A competitive advantage," he said.

In an emailed statement to CBC News, the provincial government said it is keeping an eye on coastal erosion in partnership with researchers at the University of Prince Edward Island.

In addition to beaches, the province has identified infrastructure near the shore that is at risk, including parks infrastructure.

The province is also exploring opportunities for an expanded tourism season with longer and warmer summers, marketing P.E.I. as an oasis from urban heat waves and exploring the growing sustainable tourism market.

More from CBC P.E.I.

With files from Island Morning

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