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Green conscience for Pacific holidaymakers?

The report ‘World’s 10 Best Ethical Destinations’ suggests that you are making a good holiday choice when flying to Pacific Islands. But unfortunately climate change makes the picture more complex.

Pacific islands – Ethical holiday destinations

The report The World’s 10 Best Ethical Destinations listed the Pacific island nations Palau, Tonga, Samoa and Vanuatu as winners of the 2015 most ethical holiday destinations (Greenwald, et al. 2015). It rewards the importance of environmental policy in these countries. Palau, Tonga, Samoa and Vanuatu were chosen because of their progressive energy policy and their goals for promoting resilience against climate change. They are becoming the showcases for the transformation to renewable energy.

Palau was already designated an “Environmental Star” by the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) for its extensive protected marine and terrestrial areas. Vanuatu is according to the Happy Planet Index considered as “Happiest Country in the World,” (Greenwald, et al. 2015). The index is calculated by a combination of different indicators like well-being, life expectancy and ecological footprint.

The shortcoming of the Ethical Traveler report is that national environmental and socioeconomic criteriums are chosen to consider if tourism to a country is ethical. The report did not take a close look at the local patterns of the tourism sector or questioned the tourism industry.

Ecotourism in the South Pacific?

The touristic infrastructure on Pacific islands is dominated by luxury resorts for premium rich holidaymakers. They are quite energy intensive and use a lot of freshwater. Though governments claim environmental goals, there is often a lack of dialogue between tour operators and local governments (Wong et al., 2013). One main structural disadvantaged of tourism Pacific islands cannot be tackled by any green policy: Due to the geographical situation of Oceania, most travellers reach the islands by far distant flights which are major contributors of greenhouse gas emissions. Not only tourists have to be transported to the Resorts, but also food, water and energy.

Risk that tourists move away

Tourism is a volatile business which is very vulnerable to climate change. On one hand, coastal-based, touristic infrastructure can be destroyed by sea-level rise and more intense tropical cyclones. Pacific island nations do everything to maintain this important source of revenue. Therefore, improving the resilience of touristic infrastructure is a major stake in Pacific Islands countries (Wong et al., 2013). On the other hand, tourist destinations loose attractiveness with coastal deterioration and coral bleaching. Extreme weather events and the spread of diseases like Malaria can spoil the image of a paradise holiday destination. Visitors may choose another place for Holidays.

Climate change tourism

In the last years a new touristic phenomena emerged on Pacific Islands: The climate change tourism. People come to watch and witness the climate change impacts. Newspaper articles appeared with lists of holiday destinations worth visiting before submerged by sea level rise. Visitors become an appeal of compassion with climate change victims and show their solidarity by repeating environmentalist slogans like ‘We are all Tuvalu’. But is this not rather voyeuristic consumption of climate change without questioning the own behaviour (Farbotko, 2010)? The perversity lies in the fact the attractiveness of the destination increases the more the countries are in peril of climate change.

Unfortunately, ethical tourist behaviour cannot be easily ticked down by comparison spreadsheets as the authors of the report The World’s 10 Best Ethical Destinations suggest.

© 2014 Heike Huntebrinker. All rights reserved.