6A.4 Climate Change and Potential Impacts on Tourism. Evidence from the Zimbabwean Side of the Victoria Falls World Heritage Site

Tuesday, 5 June 2018: 11:15 AM
Colorado A (Grand Hyatt Denver)
Kaitano Dube, University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa; and G. Nhamo

Handout (1.7 MB)

Tourism is a crucial development sector that employs millions of people and contributes to addressing the triple challenge of poverty, inequality and unemployment in previously disadvantaged communities across the world. In Zimbabwe tourism is a fundamental tool for development that depends on the rich natural resource base to attract international tourists. This paper assesses the evidence of climate variability and change and its potential impact on the global tourist resort of Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. The research made use of over 40 years of meteorological and hydrological data that were supplemented by an online tourism stakeholder survey that got 370 responses from across the world. Data analysis was conducted using the Mann- Kendall Trend Analysis, Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS) and Microsoft Excel Analysis ToolPak. Overall, it emerged that, indeed, climate variability and change is taking place with the potential to upset the tourism product in Victoria Falls.

The study revealed that on an annual basis there was a statistically significant annual temperature increase as shown in Figure 1. A temperature increases of 1.4°C was recorded between 1976 and 2017 marking a temperature increase of 0.35°C per decade. While there were minor changes in some months the overall annual increase could be attributed to a significant temperature increase of statistical significance was recorded in certain months namely in June, September October and November. Most substantial monthly temperature increase was recorded in October where about 3.8°C increase was recorded as temperature now averages about 35.9°C up from 32.1°C in 1976 (α 0.05 p0.0005). The increase is way above global projected increase. Such temperature increase mainly in summer months was proving problematic to tourists who complained of disturbed sleep, fatigue, heat stress and increased sunburns in the absence of air conditioners, especially in the hot, humid summer months. Tour operators in the area complained of changed animal behaviour and disturbances in aviation operators as helicopters complained of engine power loss during the summer months increasing fuel burn and costs of operations in the area.

Despite various models predicting that the region will experience a reduced rainfall, the study found that there was no significant statistical change in rainfall (p=0.780 α0.05) Figure 2. This could, however, be attributed to large swings of lows and highs in rainfall which could be cancelling each other as episodes of extreme drought and wetting was observed over the period in question. The drought frequency was observed to be on the rise with their duration also increasing. A delay in rainfall onset was noticed from October to November and shorter rainfall season by a month was observed. Tour operators complained of reduced net primary productivity in the area due to increased drought occurrences and a spike in the human-wildlife conflict in drought years as host communities turned to animals for livelihood security. A quicker drying of waterholes was reported to increase operational costs of running wildlife ventures in the area.

Surprisingly contrary to speculation that the Victoria Falls waterfalls were drying significant (p0.167 α0.05) annual water flow increase was observed at Victoria Falls (Big Tree) gauging station which is one of the most important gauging station along the Zambezi River with more than 107 years entire data series (See Figure 3). While most months showed an increase in water flow remarkable decrease in water flow was recorded in October (p0.048 α0.05) and November (p0.009 α0.05) over the observed period. The change is that if such a trend continues larger part of the waterfalls may completely drying out between October and November. A dry of the waterfalls would result in Victoria Falls losing more than 38% of its tourism market according to the survey that was conducted. This would have severe implications for regional economies who directly and indirectly derive economic benefits from this iconic site. On the other hand, some activities were enjoying longer seasons because of water drops at the waterfalls such as white-water rafting.

Evidently, climate change is taking place in the Victoria Falls with by and a large negative consequence on the resort and tourism industry. There is, therefore, need for the tourism industry to develop new weather and hydrologic calendar to allow tourists to make informed decisions. Further research is needed to understand the impact of climate change on wildlife in the area as the area is home to the Big 5 which add to the tourism product in the area. A determination of tourists’ threshold is critical to ensure that over tourism which compounds climate change and environmental degradation does not take place in the area.

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