Home to Happiness under Threat

Tourism and Climate Change in the Pacific
Ute Dilg-Saßmannshausen

Interview with Frances Namoumou of the Pacific Conference of Churches (PCC) and Reverend Tafue Lusama, General Secretary at the Church of Tuvalu and Chairperson of the Tuvalu Climate Action Network

Home to Happiness – with this slogan the official tourism website of Fiji advertises its island to international tourists. Tourism is the largest foreign exchange earner and a big source of employment for the population. But Fiji and other island states in the Pacific have a problem: climate change. While the government of Fiji hosts the Climate Conference in Bonn Tourism Watch editor Ute Dilg-Saßmannshausen talked to Frances Namoumou and Reverend Tafue Lusama about the impact of climate change and how tourism takes part in the adaptation process in the Region.

TW: What are the main impacts of climate change in the Pacific?

Tafue Lusama:In Tuvalu the main challenge is the rise of the sea level. We have a lot of problems with salt water intrusion in our ground water lens. This puts our food security at risk. Another problem is the bleaching of corals due to the acidification of the ocean and its rising temperature. When corals are damaged, fish stocks move further into the ocean. It becomes difficult to catch fish which is our main protein supply. And then we witness an increase in the intensity and the frequency of winds on our small piece of land. People live in fear for their lives.

Frances Namoumou: The people who live at coastal areas of Fiji have similar problems. On the mainland, we suffer long periods of droughts due to climate change. It has affected our agriculture during the past years.

TW: How is the tourism sector affected by this?

Namoumou: Some hotels had to find new suppliers for the food they serve in the hotel because of the long dry period. Then some operators could not offer their regular activities for tourists. This affects the local people who work in the tourism sector as well. They had to take a leave due to slow business and had to find different means of income for the time being.

TW: What is actually done to help the people to come to terms with the impacts of climate change? Does the tourism sector take part in adaptation and mitigation processes?

Namoumou: Actually, the communities that are nearby a hotel or resort are sometimes fortunate. Often the hotels are built on land that is owned by the communities and there is an agreement before structures are built. So, if there is coastal erosion, the villagers and hotel owners can work together to find a way of adapting to the problem. That way, communities close to resorts can get assistance by them. I know of one hotel group that provides funding for the building of sandbanks around the nearby village and a proper drainage system. So, in this case, tourism helps to increase the resilience of people in affected areas. For villages along the coasts there are several adaptation programs, like a sea bank project, the growing of mangrove trees or working with schools to make the youth aware of climate change and the possibilities to adapt. Some hotels engage in these types of activities, too, as part of their corporate social responsibility efforts.

TW: What is done in Tuvalu to help people to adapt to climate change?

Lusama: There are also programs to build sea walls for the communities. Then the country is supposed to become carbon neutral by 2020. In order to achieve that the government has solar power panels installed across the islands. Additionally there are several NGOs that help communities to identify and revitalize traditional knowledge to adapt to weather phenomena. For example, different methods of farming to ensure food security, reading the weather patterns or traditional ways of navigation. These skills have been ignored because of a false sense of security that was brought in by western ideas.

 

TW: I read that there are companies that actually market tourist destinations hit by climate change in the sense: You have to see it before it disappears. What do you say, when you hear this?

Lusama:Well, it is actually the first time that I hear this statement. We want to make people understand how our lives are actually threatened. We love our country and our people. If climate change is not dealt with immediately it means the literal death of a people. So tourists are welcome to come and see for themselves.

TW: Fiji is marketed as a destination for wellness and honeymoons. Do you think it is possible to make tourists aware of the problems climate change creates for the locals?

Namoumou: The resorts usually present an exotic, luxurious and carefree environment for their guests. Travelers rarely get the chance for direct encounters. It would be good to offer people another set of experiences, for example a visit in a village that has been rebuilt after a cyclone. It would also be great to see more commitment of travel agents internationally. They should say: If you want foreign tourists to come, we would like to know about the commitment of your hotel group in addressing climate change.

And then I see the responsibility also with the communities themselves. If they embrace sustainable ways of living and take their responsibilities as land owners seriously when letting land to hotel groups they may be able to change the way tourism is developed in the country.

TW: Reverend Lusama, do you think Tuvalu will survive climate change?

Lusama: We would like to be optimistic. We cling to our faith, do our part and God will do the rest. And we take our story everywhere we go. For the sake of our survival we need to fight and get involved in the international negotiations on climate change.

(November 2017, TW 89)

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