A study from the University of Maine shows that bringing together academics and tourism developers on Mount Desert Island (MDI) is an effective way to identify the impacts of climate change and determine what can be done to address them given the strengths, limitations and resources of the community. Now, thanks to the work of an interdisciplinary group of UMaine graduate researchers and community stakeholders, MDI may have more information about the path forward to keep the destination sustainable.
Nature-based tourism destinations, like many destinations across Maine, face unique challenges caused by the effects of climate change. Climate and weather determine the timing, length and quality of the tourist seasons, as well as the risks associated with recreational activities.
Participatory planning – bringing together a diverse group of stakeholders to analyze complex issues through the application of local knowledge – is an approach that communities can use to anticipate the effects of climate change and prepare appropriate solutions. For nature-based tourism destinations, this may mean diversifying recreational opportunities, for example, or developing sustainable transport plans that focus on tourism movements.
The participatory planning approach has successfully addressed the impacts of climate change in several international case studies. For example, a 2014 participatory planning study involving municipal officials, tourism developers, business owners and researchers was able to successfully identify the impacts of climate change and adaptation measures in two tourism-focused regions in northern Finland.
MDI tourism professionals are fully aware of the impacts of climate change on their businesses and the resources they manage. The participatory approach allows researchers to focus that expertise and experience to help develop solutions that are locally relevant and that take into account existing resources, including existing partnerships and ongoing adaptation and mitigation projects,” said Dr., a candidate at the University of Maine.
In a new study published in the journal Tourism and Hospitality Research, UMaine researchers worked with tourism partners on Mount Desert Island to identify the effects of climate change on the area’s tourism system and develop planning priorities for the area. This approach brought together diverse tourism suppliers who often do not cooperate, along with climate change planners, natural resource managers, and other academic researchers.
“As students who study climate change, yet work and live outside of MDI, we knew it was critical to participate in the development of workshops with community partners who could contribute their live experiences to the project,” says Alyssa Susi, Ph.D. Candidate in ecology and environmental sciences and co-author of the study.
“Because we live outside the region, we don’t have the best picture of local conditions compared to partners who live and work on the island. Their input is important because they are directly affected by local climatic conditions, while we view the situation from the outside in,” says Gabriela Wolf-Gonzalez, co-author Another in the study participated in research as a master’s degree in ecology and environmental sciences.
The study included a series of planning workshops conducted on Zoom in spring 2021 that allowed participants to share their observations and experiences related to climate change. Tourism stakeholders have identified effects such as warming and warming, reduced snow mass, changes in flora and fauna, increased ticks and unpredictability of extreme weather events on the desert mountain island. While providers have realized that, in the short term, Maine’s coastal tourist destination may benefit from increased temperatures, it may reach a “tipping point” where the climate becomes too warm and less attractive to visitors looking for a cooler destination.
The participants then worked in groups to prioritize planning based on the effects they observed. Building on the community’s strengths, barriers, and resources, two components rose to the top: addressing increased visits and making Mount Desert Island a more sustainable tourist destination by reducing greenhouse gas emissions through more sustainable energy systems and transportation strategies. Participants then identified actions they could take to work toward these goals, such as changing the timing of activities and product offerings to adapt to changing visitation patterns as well as improving winter safety messages and tourism infrastructure in response to increased winter visits.
These findings highlight the value of bringing together people with different backgrounds and investments to discuss the emerging impacts of climate change on many aspects of the nature-based tourism community; They can enhance community resilience by providing a springboard to focus on relevant and obtainable climate change actions,” says Asha Dimatio Libaby, co-author of the study that conducted the research for a master’s degree in forest resources.
“It was a very valuable experience as the students were able to have important and meaningful conversations with local communities regarding climate change and tourism, and this connection is often lacking in academia. It was clear that these conversations with coastal communities had to occur more regularly to find feasible solutions Short and Long-Term. Many climate projections fall on a time scale of 50 to 100 years and are important for long-term planning, but may not necessarily address the immediate concerns and rapid changes that affect the tourism industry from year to year,” says Valeria Briones, A co-author on the study also conducted the research for a master’s degree in forest resources.
The researchers found that engaging tourism providers was an effective way to determine the impacts of climate change and potential adaptations to the Desert Mountain Island. Similar approaches may benefit other resource-dependent tourism destinations in Maine and beyond.
“Our research demonstrated the importance of collaboration and dialogue to find appropriate solutions for communities dealing with the impacts of climate change. The passion in the workshop room was evident as everyone sought to work together to come up with common solutions.
The project was also unique in that it was graduate student-driven led by Horne, Susie Briones, Dematio Labib, and Wolf Gonzalez. All five co-authors were students and were advised by Sandra de Orost Stone, associate professor of nature-based tourism in the College of Forest Resources, and are part of the National Science Foundation’s research training program that seeks to train the next generation of transdisciplinary conservation leaders.
“Although we started this project with different backgrounds, together we brought together an interest in serving our communities and empowering community members to develop locally driven plans. This project allowed us to learn from those outside the traditional research community and from each other,” says Wolf Gonzalez.
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